Food with a Twist: Food Trucks in a Spiraling Year

Sharon Song continues hustling during a year of new challenges
Exactly as the tagline on the side of the truck reads, “Food with a Twist,” is also a condensed memoir of how Sharon Song, owner of Twister and the Rolling Duck Truck, got her start. 

Like all entrepreneurial journeys, Song’s was not without bumps, twists, and turns of its own. 

After years of working in the hospitality industry and managing upscale dining, she decided to take the reins into her own hands and build a business herself. It started off as a desire to open her very own restaurant, but after being persuaded by family members who were operating their own food truck at the time, Song shifted her entrepreneurial sights. 

“It’s not easy to get started,” she said. “Finding clientele, in the beginning, is not easy. It is much different than a restaurant where people come to you. Suddenly, as a food truck, you’re the one that has to go and find the people.”

Adapting in an industry that is quite literally always moving has to be a priority for anyone looking to get into the food truck business, Song stressed. 

After opening her first truck as a snack truck selling twisted potato fries marketed to festival-goers, Song saw in time that wasn’t going to keep her afloat and transformed her business model into what is now a savory and modern Asian comfort food menu. “At the beginning, you try to find what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. Like the menu — I must have changed my menu more than ten times in the beginning,” Song laughed. “There’s always room to improve. It’s not about what you want to sell. Success comes when you understand it’s about what people want and you’ve got to be willing to make changes.”

Song opened her Twister truck four years ago, and her second truck, Rolling Duck, which offers similar Asian food specializing in Peking duck, two years after. Throughout her several years in business she encourages like-minded mobile food-focused entrepreneurs a few keys to success: don’t rush into it, ask for advice, know it will be difficult, adapt and modify, and keep hustling, she summarized.

“I used to work with a lot of different trucks who went out of business in one year,” Song shared. “They were stubborn and wanted to do what they wanted to do and not adapt. You have to adapt. This business is really one you can’t be stubborn in. You have to modify it.”

Even with that advice, this last year has presented unmatched difficulties to even the most successful food trucks. Since the onset of COVID-19, Song has seen several peers go out of business. Her trucks too have been significantly impacted by the pandemic. 

“Because corporate catering is the biggest part of my business and there’s no such thing anymore now that businesses are closed or remote, we’re bringing in only about 25 percent of the business we used to do and doing about double the work to bring it in,” Song said. “We’re trying to find other places to work like apartments, some little markets, etc., It’s like a lot of the things I used to do in the beginning  I’m now doing again to build business back up. When times are tough like this you have to do whatever you can get.” 

Partnering with City Flavor has allowed Song to find and access more opportunities and locations to find and bring in business during a challenging time. 

“I started working with them a lot more during the pandemic. They’re personable, responsive, and good with communication,” she said.

Despite the unprecedented times, Song is not one to back down from a challenge, but rather to rise up to the occasion. Viewing a chaotic time through a different mindset, you might say, one with a “twist,” Song is seeing that as more businesses might choose to close, a larger part of the market may open for her to take advantage of. “We’re doing better compared to others. I’ve seen many sell their businesses and trucks. I think we’re going to look into a restaurant or another truck. My mentality is since people are going out of the market, there will be more business for us.”

If anyone can handle a year with a twist, it’s Sharon Song.

To check out Twister or The Rolling Duck, you can find them and a calendar of their locations on the website here.