Makers of Food

Humans do two things that make us unique from all other animals; we use 
tools and we tell stories. And when you make something, you’re doing 
both at once.
 — Adam Savage

People who take the plunge and operate a mobile food business, whether it’s a food truck, a cart, a tent, a stand, a bike… it is no easy undertaking, to be sure. Some do it to pay the bills, some do it for their own reasons, but many do it because they have a menu that they would like to share with others, and they can do so in person and all over by facing all of the uphill challenges associated with starting a restaurant business while literally driving their entrepreneurial venture up a hill.

This will likely be a running theme through writing on this topic, where I was working with Makers as part of my role at Intel Corporation in the Maker Innovator Group (now defunct, unfortunately). The Maker Community and any particular Maker as an individual, have a lot in common with those in the Mobile Food Vendor community, which is what I’m about to try to demonstrate.

Learning some IoT to Make stuff…

As part of my role I was able to leave the lab and interact with the people, our customers, as they used our products to Make things. To turn their ideas into something they could touch and try and show to others. Some were beginners, some were Making again for the very first time, and some were professional Makers or entrepreneurs. Almost without exception, everyone involved was always excited and eager not only to realize their own vision, but to help others realize theirs. I think one could toss around the term “coopetition” as the merging of cooperative and competitive spirits of the events in which we participated, but there was almost always more cooperation… the competition was more of a second thought.

MakeMIT Hackathon… a room full of coopetition

As with everything in our time, there was destined to be a reality show, and so we took part in production of America’s Greatest Makers with Mark Burnett as Executive Producer. We can set aside the very mixed feelings for another story, suffice to say this adventure was educational for all involved. I myself was able to work as a mentor for 3 of the 24 teams that made in to the first round of televised reality competition, with perhaps one of the best-known a team of just one person, Diana Voronin. At age 15, the youngest participant, but no less motivated to realize her idea.

Diana giving me some Maker advice during show production

Each of the teams was asked along the way, how they might define what a “Maker” is, and Diana had a particularly succinct version that was adopted as about as fine a definition as had been heard. Basically, a Maker wants to accomplish something, and learns anything needed to do so. It is indeed about realizing that vision, and overcoming the obstacles that might get in your way.

How many entrepreneurs do you know who can take something from what Adam and Diana have had to say about what a “Maker” is? How many mobile food vendors have had that dream, to present to happy visitors a menu that they grew up with or which they have crafted with their own take on flavors and techniques? The joys of learning about rules and regulations, the joys of LP and generator selection, and the challenge to find a place to do business each day where you can keep some of your money? One might benefit from an abundance of patience, if only there were time!

You probably see your rig already finished in photos like these

A funny thing happens, though, when a newcomer to the mobile food business game begins looking around for information and advice. That very same spirit of coopetition makes an appearance and the people who will be attracting some of the same hungry customers at the same locations near and far, are offering contact suggestions and helpful tips to get the new business up and running. Re-tweeting and sharing event bookings are yet more ways help is given and received, not to mention helping out with an extra generator, plates, missing ingredients, and other assistance when the doors are open.

Why is this? The simple, nuance-free answer comes rather easily… more high-quality mobile food helps everyone. The rising tide does lift all boats, and as more people have positive experiences not only eat and drinking new and interesting menu items, but creating fun events with new and interesting bits of culture on the calendar. An easily-seen win-win situation.

For some, though, there might be a certain reward that comes from helping others, from passing on experience acquired, sharing lessons learned. Some say, “If you understand something you should be able to explain it,” perhaps this is a practical realization of just that.

The Five Types of Makers, from The Maker’s Manual

The assertion here, though, is that mobile food vendors are Makers of Food, and if this is true, then a food truck or food cart owner or any mobile vendor must be at the Entrepreneur end of a spectrum that includes the DiYer and Self-Learner at the other end and the Educator in the middle. At some point along the path to operating one’s own business and finding some success, we all pass through that Educator milestone, and we all must remember that at some point we got some help getting there, and we can give help returning to there now and then.

If Makers have a story to tell, and they use tools, then mobile food vendors are people taking on a truly uphill trek, to tell their stories with food and drink, and to do it not only along one of the most difficult entrepreneurial journeys to embark upon, but done without a fixed address, tables and chairs, and a roof. And this is why we are doing what we are doing… because Makers of Food are our heroes.

We hope our tools will help to tell your stories.

Adam Savage quote from https://makezine.com/2016/04/01/what-is-a-maker-you-are/

The Five Types of Maker (pg-3) from https://www.psfk.com/report/makers-manual