(Philadelphia, PA) Ever tried a gluten free bagel “schmeared” with greek yogurt cream cheese, mixed with strawberries and bananas? That’s just one of many diverse options at the new Philadelphia food truck, Schmear It! You can order signature bagels, or create your own, with seasonal ingredients ranging from wasabi to mango. According to it’s website, Schmear It is “Philly’s first and only food truck serving bagels with your personalized, custom crafted schmears AND social good.”
Since its recent launch mid-August of last year, Schmear It has already received much attention, being featured everywhere from Philly.com to BeWellPhilly. It has almost two thousand followers on Twitter, and roughly one thousand Facebook ‘likes’, and counting! The truck is usually located in University City on 38th and Locust, but it also frequents LOVE Park, 34th & Market, and The Porch at 30th Street. Customers can even pre-order bulk orders online, so their bagels are ready when they reach the truck!
What about the social good aspect?
According to the website, “every two weeks, Schmear It features a new local cause to which a portion of sales will be donated. Leveraging its mobile market presence, Schmear It will raise funds and increase exposure for the featured organization.” Philadelphia non-profit organizations are invited to submit their information on the company website for donations, and an opportunity to be featured. During that time, the truck has promotional materials on display for the non-profit, and links are posted on all Schmear It social media sites.
David Fine is the Founder and “Chief Schmear Officer”. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a deep interest in Philadelphia’s food scene! While he has previously worked in sports PR, he has decided follow his interests in non-profits, with his first social entrepreneurship venture. Au’loni was fortunate enough to interview David about his entrepreneurship experiences, and the work he has put into bringing Schmear it to life.
AM: How did you come up with the idea for Schmear it?
David: This is the longest story, so I’ll try to cut to the chase. After graduating from Penn, I worked for Major League Baseball for a short amount of time, but I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to work in the non-profit sector. After the MLB, I worked for a non-profit and got great experience, but I became frustrated with some of the standards at that particular organization. I wanted to use more creativity.
I’m a big fan of TOMS and Warby Parker: for profit companies with a one-for-one model. You buy a pair of shoes or glasses, and the company donates a pair. I love the model of one-for-one, and being able to do good without having to scrounge for resources.
I started thinking about how to incorporate this idea into the food industry. Just to clarify, I had no culinary experience. I went to Penn, and had gotten familiar with food trucks, and identified a need in the market for bagels and schmear.
AM: How did your skills from working in marketing and PR translate to the non-profit sector?
David: *Laughs* Well, I was a history major. What better use of history than starting a food truck? I was I was a double major in Communications. Some of that background touched on marketing, social media and consumer culture. I was working in communications and community relations for the non-profit where I previously worked, and launched the social media for that. I was able to put those skills to good use.
Food trucks use social media to their advantage. So much of the food truck activity is linked to social media: posting your food to Instagram, creating buzz, and giving location updates. A huge part of the business is connecting with and communicating with customers through social media. In terms of PR, I had written press releases in the past, and wrote one for Schmear It, when first launched. I also have experience with photography for marketing purposes.
AM: As Chief Schmear Officer, do you work in the truck on a daily basis?
David: I do! In the beginning stages, it was a necessity, and as we’ve grown, I do it out of desire
I really enjoy it from a strategic standpoint, in terms of training employees, but I also enjoying customer interactions. The coolest part of the job when you realize that you can make people happy with what you’re doing. It’s really cool to see how that can bring such joy and excitement to people. To offer great customer service, and see that happiness is really enjoyable, so that’s something I don’t want to give up
It’s definitely a give and take. There’s a need for me to be off the truck, handling strategy and logistics, but I believe that the owner needs to be hands-on, and in the truck, so I’m there with significant regularity. We recently got a partner on board, so the time will be split, for daily operations.
AM: What hardships did you face when developing Schmear It?
David: There were a couple of different things: First and foremost, a typical hardship for anyone opening a food truck is navigating the maze of paths related to licensing and permits. There is a lot that you have to do. None of the items are very difficult to complete, but there are a lot of sequential steps that make up the big picture. You have to get health inspections and licenses, but there is no guide that lays out the course of action, which is difficult.
For me personally, streamlining food operations has been difficult. Like I said, I’ve got no food background. I had to learn about inventory, and how much stock I need. Early on, I purchased ten times amount of bananas we needed! I was clueless about how to estimate needs for ingredients on a daily and weekly basis until I was on the job.
One that I continue to face is with the social impact origin of Schmear It. I sometimes feel deficient in this aspect, because of the sheer amount of time in a day that it takes to work on operations and growth. I want to dedicate more time to focusing on featured causes, compiling materials and getting the word out about the different causes.
AM: Have many non-profits requested to be featured?
David: It has been pretty steady, and is only continuing to pick up! I’ve got lots of messages in my mailbox, which is really cool, to me. Now we’re booked for several months!
AM: How were you able to overcome the challenges that you mentioned?
David: I was able to get through the challenges by just planning it out, learning as I went, and always looking for how to improve. This is still happening. Nothing in this process has been, in and of itself, extremely difficult. It’s really a combination of all the moving parts, and figuring out how to maximize efficiency.
AM: What advice do you have for others interested in entrepreneurship?
David: You’ve got to feel good about where you are with support, financially, but also, friends family, all partners… as long as you feel stable in that regard, then just do it!
Nothing has been more rewarding that just trying it. I compare this experience to an MBA program for myself. It’s truly a hands on experience. I’m learning marketing, staffing, scheduling, legal, taxes – all of it together is really rewarding, from a personal standpoint.
That’s what entrepreneurship is once you take that leap!
AM: What are your short-term and long-term goals for the business?
David: This is an interesting one. I have lots of thoughts – some specific, some vague, by intention. I’ve been open to flexibility about where the concept goes, and I’ve been happy to go with it. So many food trucks, if successful, will move to brick and mortar. Some might get a second truck or move to another city. All of these options are viable, if all goes well.
My goals (short as well as long) just involve growth and continuing to learn how a business model works, how our concept works. I want to figure out how we can better feature causes, because that was truly an experiment. We came into this wondering how we could make a food business with a conscience. We came in trying to figure out how that works. We will continue to see how viable it is, in both the long and short term, and continue improving.
We look forward to seeing what the future holds for Schmear It, and David’s team. To learn more about Schmear It, please visit the Official Website. You can also follow on Twitter and Instagram @Schmearit or like the Facebook Page. If you are interested in Schmear It hosting your cause, please click here.