Tony Amante Schepers is the Director of Operations and Customer Experience at a company called Curbside Kitchen; a website and app that partners with the best food trucks to have breakfast and lunch options “trucked in” daily to your workplace.
Dan Gingiss: Tony, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Tony Amante Schepers: Sure. Well, thanks again for having me. I feel like I’m standing on giants looking at all the other people you’ve interviewed. So, I appreciate you putting me up there. I guess I would describe myself as a professional storyteller. I really aim to maximize the customer satisfaction, retention and growth of a company through the journey, transformation and product and service adoption.
That’s kind of a wonky way of saying I look through the eyes of the consumer. I look through the eyes of the employee and the owners of the company to make it all kind of melt together. I love creating customer and employee value and hopefully strengthening the company’s market portfolio.
Out of the four stages of a business from introduction, growth, maturity and decline, I consider myself in that growth stage. I enjoy working with startups, especially kind of in their year three or four when they’re in that sweet spot of ready to expand, to become more scalable, which is really exciting for me.
And my background varies from many, many industries. H.R. Payroll, International Education, studying intern abroad. I worked as an external consultant for Marriott in the Digital Consulting Department for a while, and here I am at a Curbside Kitchen trying to bring food trucks to commercial buildings and residential buildings alike.
Dan Gingiss: That’s awesome. Before we get into Curbside, just want to dig a little deeper into something that you mentioned. The different stages of a startup. In today’s world, given how important customer experience is, and obviously we want startups to be thinking from a CX perspective from the very beginning. Is there a time where it’s almost too late? You’re going in at three or four years. If they haven’t been thinking in a customer centric way since then, isn’t they aren’t they already in trouble?
Tony Amante Schepers: They probably wouldn’t be in business at that point if they if they weren’t considering it from the get-go. Great question. You know, startups kind of come out of a sort of fire of desire to make things right. A CEO could see a need and say, I have a solution. Let’s see if it sticks. But that need comes out of knowing the customer.
So, if a business is still in business at year three, four or five, they really have started from the very beginning of thinking of the customer. At the Curbside Kitchen example, we have three customers. We have the food trucks, of course. We have the property managers at commercial and real estate, residential buildings, and then we have the customer ordering from the app itself.
So, if you haven’t defined the customer by the time you’re swinging out the gate, you’re probably going to be lost.
Dan Gingiss: For sure. Kind of what I thought you’d say. So, I wanted to put that out there. So, I’m going to ask you about Curbside Kitchen.
Dan Gingiss: You shared a video with me and a couple of things that really stood out to me. The first was that the landlord was talking about differentiating his product. And the first thing I thought was, man, I never really thought of a landlord as having a product. But of course, they do, right? Their building is one of many different buildings. And whether it’s got consumer tenants or it’s got business tenants, they got to offer things and amenities that maybe the guy next door doesn’t. So, talk to me about how you work with buildings like that and help them differentiate.
Tony Amante Schepers: Before Covid, or as I would say, 2020 B.C. All the buildings were exactly the same. You would go there, 100% occupancy, you would go to the cafeteria, you talk among your friends, you go back to your office, you work, you go home. And we were doing fine then because everyone was looking for something different. A commercial building or even the residential building was looking for a way to stand out. It’s not just the stale food at the cafeteria anymore. People want options.
Covid comes. We flip over quite strongly to the residential buildings because no one was in commercial. How can residential buildings differentiate themselves, keep their tenants/renters there? Now as we get out of Covid, we’re looking to continue our expansion back into commercial.
Finding ways to bring tenants back to the office building is an uphill battle for a lot of commercial units. How can they differentiate? A food truck they’re guaranteed every Wednesday from twelve to two. And you know, in advance what it’s going to be, you know, advance what the food is. You can order an advance up to 48 hours and you can do it completely contactless, which is awesome.
And you have this sort of this this routine that you’re going to have X food truck there every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at noon. And that’s going to make that office complex stand out more and more. So as when I read a statistic down Microsoft, they interviewed some thirty thousand employees and employers and a good 40% this year of employees plan on ditching their current employer and going to a different employer.
Why? Because they want to work from home part-time. They want to have more freedom. But to keep those at the company or to entice those to yours, why not offer a food truck every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and have some variety there? So that’s an interesting pitch that a office complex can give to companies that are looking to either move offices or hopefully have them stay.
Dan Gingiss: Yeah, I love that. And I remember back in the day when I worked in an office, especially when I worked downtown, you know, you almost get into the cycle of the three or four places you go to for lunch that are near you, that you can walk to quickly and get back to your desk.
And so I love the idea of lunch coming to you and also being able to shuffle it up a little bit, right? Now you don’t have just the two or three choices. You’ve got a couple of new ones coming all the time, which I think is great. How to feel how do people feel about ordering from food trucks?
I know in some areas, like, for example, I went to school in Philly. Philly is known for its food truck scene. So, it was very comfortable ordering from food trucks. But then in some cities, they’re not as prevalent and maybe people are a little more suspicious or cautious. How are you finding that depending on where you’re going?
Tony Amante Schepers: There are a huge amount of food deserts in this country where you have office complex complexes 20, 30, 40 miles outside of a city and nowhere to eat. Food truck comes in and oh, my God, you suddenly have options. You don’t have to bring the sack lunch. When you go to an office in the city, you certainly have options, which is true.
But sometimes you don’t want to go walking too terribly far. Sometimes you want to know in advance that food will be there in the type of food that will be there. Eating is a shared experience and to make it such in the work environment is something that we kind of hope to bring back to the office. Let’s order. Let’s have the chicken at noon from Seven Stars Wings food truck. And to know that it’s going to be there 12:30.
You go with your buddies from work, it’s there. You preorder, you walk out. The food’s ready at the time you want it. They’re no cash, it’s all through the app. You’re good to go. Those are unique experiences that we hope to continue at office complexes and residential units alike.
Dan Gingiss: So you mentioned that you have multiple customers. Let’s start with the end user. What does that experience look like for them? And I know that they’re ordering on the app and all that sort of thing, but I’d love for you to describe it.
Tony Amante Schepers: Yeah, well, you can easily download the app. Just go to Curbside Kitchen in your app store and download it. No cost, of course. And when you open it up, you can type in your location, and you can see if there’s a food truck on our platform that’s nearby. If there is, you click where that food truck is. You can see the schedule of when it will be arriving and where. And within a 48-hour window of the arrival of that food truck at your office on a Thursday, you can start ordering on a Tuesday. Place your order, click, click, click.
Customers are charged a small convenience fee of 99 cents. You can choose the time for pick up and then you can also tip the food truck person in advance as well. You go there and within a 5–15-minute window, your food is ready at the time you asked for it to be picked up. It’s contactless, it is guaranteed, and it kind of creates a routine. I think a lot of people, the customer, the end user, badly wants a routine after a year of uncertainty. Curbside Kitchen really does bring that routine to them.
Dan Gingiss: That’s a great point. I want to share with you an image that I usually have in my keynote presentations. And it actually is of a food truck. It’s maybe perhaps my favorite food truck. But of course, I don’t even remember what they served. But this was at the Inbound Conference in Boston, and they have a huge, huge conference. And one of the things they did was bring in about two dozen food trucks in order to serve all of the attendees for lunch. And so, it was really clever. You got a ticket, and you could use the ticket at any food truck.
Well, I saw this one. And, you know I love signage in terms of customer experience. I saw this one and said, OK, I have got to go and try this food truck simply because of the funny sign. Now, I did pay with the credit card, I should point out, but I think it’s interesting that even a food truck has to differentiate from other food trucks because oftentimes they’re parked next to each other, what have you. Do you see other interesting examples of how the trucks themselves are able to stand out? Or is it just really focused on the quality of the food?
Tony Amante Schepers: Curbside Kitchen modernizes a very antiquated business model. Before a company like Curbside Kitchen came along, the food truck industry was a bit of a wild, wild west. Trucks would just go anywhere and find a place to go. And maybe they have good sales, maybe not. It’s very expensive to prep food, drive a honking truck with gas mileage that’s not that great to location you hope to make money.
And so Curbside Kitchen comes along, and we harness all of these opportunities under one umbrella. We do the logistics; we do the vetting of the food truck, we vet their license, and we make sure that there’s guaranteed revenue there for the food trucks in partnership with the commercial residential building.
So, while we ask our foodies, the end user, not to pay with whiskey as your sign showed. Paying with a credit card is super fast and super easy. But again, before it was just a bit of a Wild West situation. And we’re kind of harnessing all of this chaos under one platform to make it super easy for all three verticals.
Dan Gingiss: Cool. Well, I guess it depends on the type of whiskey, right? It’s really good.
Tony Amante Schepers: Debatable.
Dan Gingiss: So how do you deal with local laws with food trucks and how do strict regulations affect how you communicate with customers? You don’t want to speak negatively about the locality, but you need to be honest with the customers.
Tony Amante Schepers: Absolutely. First off, Curbside Kitchen is not a government entity. We take our time to find what rules and regulations are there, we ensure that the food trucks have the correct licenses, that they are vetted by us, that they have the safety needs there. We have a partnership with a very large winery in the Virginia area. And every Saturday there’s live music and it’s basically a festival and we vet the trucks that go there, but we have to make sure that they’re up to code. We have to make sure that they have the licenses. We have to make sure that they are able to vend in that county, and not just county, but you have to consider state regulations, health codes, OSHA, et cetera. At the federal level.
We do our due diligence to make sure that those food trucks are thoroughly vetted. We receive a copy of the certificate of insurance, make sure that that is all up to date. And then we also have an umbrella insurance policy with Curbside Kitchen, which I don’t know any of our competitors offering. So, if something were to happen, it then taps into our insurance as well. So, to answer your question, we said it’s a lot of due diligence. There is a checklist beyond belief that we have, which is what the food truck, which is what the end user, which is what the property management company is paying for, for to make sure that we are doing our due diligence to make sure the food truck is covered. Great question.
Dan Gingiss: So what’s hot right now in food trucks? What are people either looking for or what are some of the more innovative, unique offerings that you’re seeing?
Tony Amante Schepers: It depends on the event. We have a few one-off events. We work with the Asian-American society in Maryland, and they have a big weekend event. So obviously they want some food trucks with Asian cuisine. We work with the food truck called Aloha Poke. They do very, very well. Who doesn’t want a poke bowl? I mean, it’s delicious.
Dan Gingiss: I want one right now.
Tony Amante Schepers: Let’s see what else we have dessert trucks. Sometimes a residential unit wants to celebrate and say thank you to the residents. So, we have dessert trucks, ice cream. We worked with Capital One Bank, where they’re headquartered in Virginia. They had an event over the weekend called Pups and Pints, where we worked in partnership with a nonprofit brewery where we brought a brewery truck, a dessert truck, barbecue truck, and chicken wing truck to a parking lot where dogs were there. And humans, of course. And we were they were celebrating this Pups and Pints fundraiser where people could adopt pups. So, it really depends on the event, and it depends on the office complex itself and their demographic, which is what we look at too.
Dan Gingiss: That’s really neat. So, tell me a little bit more then about your role. You’re the Director of Operations and Customer Experience. What does that entail? And I ask because a lot of our viewers are in this space every day, not the food truck space, but they’re working on customer experience every day. They’re implementors. Tell me the kinds of projects that you end up working on or the things that you’re thinking about every day.
Tony Amante Schepers: I was hired when there wasn’t ever at this company a Director of Operations and Customer Experience. And my first job, day one, was to take an assessment of the current state of affairs.
What processes are working, which ones aren’t? Which employees need a leg up, which ones are doing great and are not recognized? You know, we’re a prop-tech company, property, technology. So, is the technology there? I’m not one hundred percent techie, but I can speak it and I get it.
So, I come in sort of with my management-consultant hat on as a sort of outsider and just ask a lot of questions. That’s really what I did first and foremost. Then after charting out what the current state is, I was interviewing every employee and asking what would you say you do here? And so, I asked that in a very kind way, just to make sure we had the right people in the right positions.
Tony Amante Schepers: So I was making sure we had the right people on the bus, and we knew that we needed to get some more people on that bus. So, after getting a State of Affairs in order, I then charted out Future State. This is where we should be by X date. And after that got in place, I got buy-in from all the departments, the CEO, the investors, and I said, this is where we need to be so let’s make it happen. Here’s the potential cost and here’s how long it will take.
And that’s kind of where we are now. We’re in that transition phase of having gotten all the right people on the bus. Now let’s get these processes and procedures in place. And next step will be really focusing much more on the customer experience.
Is the app working? Is it not? If it isn’t, what are the experiences that they’re having? Are they able to contact us quickly and easily? We use Zendesk for issues, and we respond within 7 minutes, 24/7. We are there to make sure that we’re learning from our mistakes so that we can make it better. And that’s always through the eyes of the customer.
Dan Gingiss: Yeah, that’s awesome. How are you, especially as you were responsible for kind of starting up the CX function, how are you measuring success? What are you looking at? What kind of metrics are you looking at?
Tony Amante Schepers: Tons of metrics. I don’t think any startup, any company today can be successful, get more investors, sell, if that’s a goal, if they’re not following data. I’ll answer that question in one second, but I really enjoy every Friday writing what I call the “weekly roundup.” I got this advice from a dear mentor of mine, Mary Kramer, former publisher, Crain’s Detroit News. She said, Tony, go across all departments, ask what they’re doing, ask their pain points, their successes and write it on a Friday weekly roundup.
Part of that roundup at Curbside Kitchen that I include are data, are metrics. We follow, how many orders were done in the past seven days? How many people have downloaded our app both on Android and iOS? We follow the revenue made per truck, and revenue made per location.
We have all of this data, 15-20 data points. And as we continue creating better experiences, that data that we harness will make those experiences better. Specifically, we’re coming up very soon with an A.I. platform on our on our app that actually recommends a truck to a commercial or residential building based on previous sales, demand, if that truck was there in the past two or three weeks, tons and tons of data. No company can exist today without tracking it.
Dan Gingiss: Yeah, that is fantastic. Well, thank you, Tony, for making us all very hungry. Now, I got to go eat lunch and it probably won’t be as exciting of a lunch as if I were visiting one of your trucks. For everybody else, please go check out Curbside Kitchen. Hopefully you’ve got them setting up some trucks near your home or office. Tony, thanks so much. I really appreciate you being here.
Tony Amante Schepers: Thank you for the invite Dan.