In San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood, Marina Snetkova is known as “the Cookie Time lady.” She sells freshly baked snickerdoodles, molasses spice cookies, and other goodies from the window of her food truck, which she parks six days a week at 3865 24th St. between 5 and 10 p.m. “Evenings are a better time for business,” she says. “People stop by on their way home from work — or later when they are out walking their dogs.”
The Latvian-born entrepreneur, who learned to bake at her grandmother’s side and later studied at the California Culinary Academy, also offers European-style spicy hot chocolate, flourless oat-raisin bars, and sorbet sandwiches. “Trucks are very limited in terms of water, storage, and work space, so I keep it simple,” she says, “even though I can do more elaborate things.”
The GoPayment Blog recently talked with Snetkova about the challenges and the rewards of her mobile business.
GoPayment: What prompted you to join the food truck revolution?
Snetkova: My dream was to open a wine bar, but that required too much of an investment, so I decided to start small. I was driving across the country to San Francisco for a wedding, and my friends convinced me that I should start my business here. The city had become more friendly to food trucks. I found my truck, a 1996 Chevrolet Grumman, on Craigslist and negotiated the price down because I couldn’t drive a stick shift. The transmission broke on the first day.
What was the next challenge?
The oven broke. The truck was an ugly duckling, so I gave it new clothes: a convection oven, refrigerator, storage, and workspace. Since I move the truck every day, I needed a way to keep everything stored securely. It’s 21 feet long, but I only have about 10 to 12 feet to work in, so I have quite a few bumps and bruises.
Was it difficult to secure a parking space and get the necessary permits?
I had to find my space and do all the documentation. I’m a very legal truck vendor. I was in Noe Valley, a neighborhood with lots of kids, and saw a private parking lot where I was able to get a permit to park. There were a lot of health department requirements; I needed a business license, had to have the truck inspected for safety, and ensure that I had a safe place to park it for the night, etc. I got my permits on July 11 last year and opened for business on Nov. 26, Black Friday.
How do you market your business?
I just use Facebook and Twitter. It’s the way I let people know what’s coming out of the oven today, or if I’m going to be closed because of the weather. And, now that I take credit cards (with GoPayment), I’ve doubled my credit card volume. I really like the interface, and when people ask for a receipt, I send it by phone or email; it helps me to remember their names. Local food blogs have also given me some exposure.
One blog reported a kerfuffle with a coffee shop. How did you resolve that?
I went in with my cookies to introduce myself but did not receive a very friendly reception. I don’t put any energy into negativity. I am not taking any business away from the owner, and I think she realizes that now. The neighborhood has been very supportive.
What have you learned after four months in business?
The best thing I’ve learned is to just go for it and let things flow. The pleasure comes from knowing I’ve made the best possible cookie with whole grains and mostly organic ingredients. Watching little kids eating warm cookies, with chocolate on their faces, makes it all worth it. I tell my friends that I’m exhausted all the time, but I think I’m happy.