O'Cheeze and Dough Dough
With a few years working in restaurants, a love of grilled cheese sandwiches, their honeymoon money and a loan from North American Banking Company, Tony and Haley Fritz debuted their popular food truck O’Cheeze in 2014. O’Cheeze was an instant success that took hard work and effort to manage as it kept increasing in popularity. Tony and Haley would park the O’Cheeze truck at multiple locations during the day, starting in the morning and ending at 10 PM. From there, they would go to their commissary and start working on the next day’s service until 1 AM, then be back on the truck in the morning, repeating that process nearly every day.
In 2016, they added a second O’Cheeze truck to meet the rising demand. As a “hobby”, they started their pet project Dough Dough, a food truck that serves cookie dough which is also drawing a loyal following. They also have a Dough Dough storefront location at the Mall of America.
They also just opened up an O'Cheeze location at Keg and Case in St. Paul.
We caught up with Tony and Haley over mac and cheese grilled cheese sandwiches to talk about their business and how North American Banking Company has helped this hard working couple expand their thriving business.
Tony, you have a computer science degree and Haley, you have a degree in marketing. How did you decide to get into food trucks and then from there, grilled cheese?
Haley: In the beginning, when we started dating, we were broke college kids. So it was a pastime of ours to make grilled cheeses. And I was really in love with the food truck scene from the beginning. I liked the social media aspect of having someone look you up and go find you on the streets. I just found that very fascinating. So we decided to do it [start a business] for ourselves, where I think we wanted to be anyway. We’ve always thought big picture. We thought we would try it. It’s a good time in our lives to do something risky like this. We just pulled the trigger on it and here we are.
What was your first year of business like? Were you successful right off the bat?
Haley: We were. We had just an amazing reception from the local media, people and fans. Grilled cheese is a comfort food and I think people are really attracted to a company that isn’t going to shove a pretentious item down your throat. We’re making something that is comforting to people. It can be fun. It can be playful.
Tony: When we started, we had no idea what we were doing. To be honest, the first day we opened, neither of us had ever worked the back of the house of a restaurant kitchen. Ever. I remember this so well. We had six people on the truck and we all looked at each other, not knowing what we were doing. We had thought about everything else that was going on except for the actual physical service.
Haley: And actually moving inside of the truck. Who is going to do what? It’s not like we didn’t have any idea. We had AN idea.
Tony: Right. All of the sudden we just slipped into places that made sense. For the first year, Haley and I worked day in and day out. We also didn’t know what we were doing so much that we were prepping every night for the next day’s service. We didn’t understand the forecasting of prepping out three days in advance instead of the next day. You have to do it anyway, so why prep one batch of soup when you can make four batches of soup.
Haley: We didn’t know how big of a pull we would have with people. We were getting just an insane amount of people right away. Our first day I think we did 300 sandwiches. We weren’t expecting that. That whole first year was literally trying to keep up with our growth. The more people heard about us, the bigger each service became. So we would say “The last time we were here, we did about 50 sandwiches. So we’ll prepare for 50.” And then we would do 100. We would be going to our commissary after our shift was done at 10 PM, then we would be cooking until midnight or 1 AM, then we would be back on the truck the next morning. Then we would end up doing over what we expected that day so we would be back again in the commissary, cooking in the middle of the night. It was so big and rolling so quickly that we were just doing whatever we could to keep up. So it’s not like we didn’t know what we were doing, we just didn’t understand how big it was going to be.
At what point did you roll out a second truck?
Haley: We had just the one for two years. In our third year, we just got sick of saying no to people. The whole second year all we did was tell people “I’m sorry, we’re booked.” So we thought, “Let’s just do another one.” And it’s been awesome.
So you’ve had a lot of success with the grilled cheese concept. How did you decide to get into cookie dough?
Haley: It actually started as a concept, as a dessert item for grilled cheese. We’ve always struggled with what to do for dessert on O’Cheeze because dessert grilled cheeses are not the cleanest item. If you look at our sandwiches, they all stick together. A suit and tie downtown is not going to have chocolate all over it.
Tony: Or your hands and face covered in that stuff.
Haley: So we always kind of struggled with dessert grilled cheeses. So we thought about putting cookie dough on the truck and see if that is a valid dessert choice. As we were building it and starting it, we got a little more confident in the concept and we decided “Let’s just see how this goes.” There aren’t a lot of trucks in the dessert market. So we pulled the trigger. I think a week after we started the process. We went from concept to truck in a month. The week after, we found there is a shop that had just opened that week of dough in New York and they were doing the same thing. Then we saw how big their lines were and the kind of pull they were getting. So we knew then that it was going to be bigger than we thought. So we ramped it up based on what we had learned from O’Cheeze.
Tony: We looked at how we could get it to market the fastest. So we looked at every idea we could. We looked at going storefront, we looked at a cart, going on a trailer… we looked at every way. Why would we want to get outside of what we are used to and what we’re good at? So we went with a truck and I called the guy who builds our trucks (Mark Palm at Chameleon). I said “Here’s the deal Mark. I have an idea. I can’t really tell you what it is but how fast can you build me a truck that doesn’t involve cooking equipment, exhaust, or hood? Can you get it done in less than three weeks?” He says “Yep, I can do that.” I bought the truck on Monday. I demoed it on Monday. I got it to him on Tuesday and I was signing paperwork with Luke on Tuesday morning and then we cut a check for Mark Palm.
We went to Luke [Ferden, VP Business Banking at North American Banking Company] with an idea. He works pretty hard for us. I called Luke and said “I have this crazy idea. I want to start a new truck for a new concept.” He said “Give me your business plan, send me your models and let’s take a look at it.” I sent it to him and asked him if we’re going to have a problem and he said “I don’t think so.”
Do you try and park the O’Cheeze and Dough Dough trucks together?
Haley: They definitely help each other. They give each other a boost. But they are both capable of sitting by themselves. We took on Dough Dough as a side project. It was really supposed to be a hobby, which it’s not now. It was supposed to be kind of a pet project, so we haven’t pushed it as hard as we could. O’Cheeze is out twice a day, seven days a week. Or maybe six days a week twice and once on Sunday. It’s booked very heavy and we log a lot of hours on the generator. But Dough Dough, we haven’t been going crazy with it because it’s just more of a pet project. I think once we do our expansion it will be turning into something bigger.
Do you miss being on the truck?
Haley: I do, a lot, which is weird. It’s a lot of fun to work on the truck. The stress isn’t there. Once you got on the truck and started cooking, all of the stress went away because you knew you were doing what you were supposed to be doing. Now, I’m never on the truck anymore and unfortunately, I always have this laundry list of items I should be doing. If you’re on the truck, you’re stuck on the truck and you’re doing it. You get to see the people. That’s the coolest part. My dad works for us and he was just saying last night that he’s seen the same couple probably four times in the last three weeks and they’ve been following us around to the different breweries. He had a long conversation with them about what we do. Those are the things I miss. I miss the interactions and getting the feedback. It’s a lot harder to adjust and tinker with things when you’re not on there. It’s been a little weird to be just doing 100% administration.
When did you take the step back and stop working on the trucks?
Haley: I took it when we started the second truck. Tony was more recently. Maybe a couple of months ago.
So you’re millennials. People of your age are starting more businesses at a faster rate than any other generation in the history of the US. What advice would you have for someone your age who has a business idea?
Haley: I’d probably have a laundry list. The first part would be it’s really hard to pull the trigger. The hardest part for me was the first two weeks of the first truck. That was by far the most difficult part of it. But I’d say start looking through your options if you’re going to start a business. Know your numbers. We see it a lot in the food truck industry. People just don’t know their numbers. I don’t know if it is putting your head in a hole and trying to hide from it because you have this great idea that you want to do. But if the numbers don’t work, they don’t work. So I’d say one would be, don’t be scared. Two would be do your homework.
Three is expect it to be a heck of a lot more work than what you were thinking. People say that business owners work really hard and you hear it. But you realize once you get into it that it’s 24 hours. Tony and I have designated times when have to turn our phones off. We have employees and they’re working until midnight which means they’re calling us until midnight. The person who owns the building where we park might call at 1 AM to let us know that the power is out. Then you have $2,000 worth of food in the truck that could go bad. There are so many things that can come up and so many things that need to be fixed. It’s a 24 hour thing but if you hit the ground running and put the work in, eventually it starts to ease up, which we’re starting to feel now. We’re both administrative 100% but you also have to work when something comes up. We’re starting to reap the benefits of those first few years of really difficult work. It’s awesome and it gets a lot better but just expect to work really, really hard.
How did you get connected to Luke and North American Banking Company?
Tony: We got connected through Greg’s (Haley’s father and current general manager of operations at O’Cheeze) old job at his insurance business. He suggested we talk to Luke. He said “You have to check this guy out. He’s awesome.”
Haley: We were looking for a small bank. Somebody personal. North American Banking Company came up and we sat down with Luke. He seemed optimistic and able to lead us through all of the convoluted stuff that happens.
Tony: Quite honestly, getting a food truck loan is really risky so a lot of big banks won’t even look at you. You might not even get the opportunity to showcase your idea for it. Getting the opportunity was a big deal for us so our loyalty is pretty strong.
We really like working with North American Banking Company. I tell people about it all the time. We just brought some friends who own another food truck in to North American Banking Company to do a loan. So when people ask us who we bank with, we tell them. Just the relationship we have built with Luke it has been quite easy. One of the first people we told we were having a baby was Luke because we only had one car because we needed to get another car now because I’m freaking out. He said “We’ll figure it out and tell you how much you owe.” That was over quick emails. You don’t get to do that at other banks and have that kind of a relationship. With an SBA loan, he’ll come back and say “This doesn’t make sense” and shows us why when other banks would just submit it and say “Denied.” Luke actually works with us through the process to make sure we can set ourselves up for an approval for what we’re looking to do.
Haley: I love working with Luke. He’s the strong and silent type. He’s excited about what your excited about in Luke ways with extra smiles and “Oh man that’s cool” ‘s. I feel like he cares about the concept and I think that’s the number one thing you want because if people are like “You want to start a business? Here’s some money”… I want you to look at it and tell me if it’s viable. You’ve seen 100 businesses come through. If this isn’t something you are excited about, then I’m less excited about it.
We’ll call him with a concept and he’ll say “Yeah, write it up and let’s see what you have in mind." I had to call him and say “Luke, you need to stop me from opening businesses. I’m way too busy for this” and he’ll say “But they’re all doing so well!” I’ll tell him “But I’m so busy now. You need to cut me off! [laughs] If I come back with a brilliant idea… I don’t care if it’s the next Vegas casino, don’t let me do it!”
If you bring him a plan, does he adjust it with you?
Tony: He’s taking a look. A lot of it is over email. He might say “These numbers don’t make a lot of sense. Can you tell me where you got to these?” So what’s nice about it is that it’s not like he’s saying “This is wrong and you need to redo it.” He works with us to adjust it and guide us in the right direction.
[Loud beeping from the truck backing up]
Do you have to move the truck a lot?
Tony: Sometimes we have to find a new parking spot. But that’s the nice thing about having a restaurant on six wheels!