After working in the restaurant industry in nearly every role, including general manager, Mike Mendola thought he was finished with that business line until a sense of boredom brought him back.
Mendola, who runs Nine’s Food Service, a business that feeds area youth through grants and community centers, had July and August off for multiple years. He decided to start a food truck to fill the void for two months a year.
Much to his surprise, Carnivorous Food Truck took off and quickly developed a following that demanded year-round service. Mendola explains why meat lovers flock to his truck at Flying Bison, Niagara Square, Roswell and other locations at across the community.
Question: Most people would enjoy summers off. Why did you choose to start a second business?
Mendola: After years of having the summers off, I wanted to find a way to have work to do and the food truck idea came up. I originally thought it would be for July and August, but then people started calling me and asking me to come out.
Q: How did you come up with the meat truck idea named Carnivorous?
A: I wanted an identity. We knew the nature of what we wanted to do. Many food trucks are single minded. Some are super healthy and vegan – a lot of trucks do that. So we wanted a "meat lovin’, I don’t care what the doctor says I’m going to have that double cheeseburger" [truck]. We have the meat-lover market covered.
Q: How does customer reaction affect your menu?
A: The fish tacos sell out all the time. Pot roast – we thought it would be a cold-weather dish, but even on a hot summer day it sells. Duck wings – people will hunt us down for duck wings.
We’re bringing out wild boar baby back ribs with a pineapple chipotle sauce - it carries a little heat, you have to have a little spice. We think it’s a good recipe and we’ll see if it turns out. If the public likes it, we’ll keep it forever.
Q: In less than a year running the truck, what surprises you most?
A: I knew Buffalo was a great food town. There are lots of foodies. But we gained popularity very quickly. I thought it would take longer to build the brand. But we are pretty well booked. I thought it would take a long time to get a following.
[RELATED: The Buffalo News' Food Truck Guide for 2017]
Q: How important is social media to the food truck business?
A: Social media is a little important, but I’m a fundamentalist. If you put out a good product and feed people well and treat them properly, you’ll be a success. You have to provide a good value for the money. That’s how you gain notoriety.
Q: How does the food truck work with Nine’s Food Service?
A: I’m glad you asked about the other company. I opened that company 10 years ago to use federal grants to feed underprivileged people in Erie County. I’m proud of the work my employees have done over the years and I like to make sure they know. We have a great team and a great staff and I couldn’t do it without them.
Q: Now that you have two businesses, what does the future hold?
A: I am planning for another truck with a different concept. I need to build a kitchen and work the plans out.