Food-Lish-Us: A food…bus?
At any one of the community events around Denver, Colorado, there is bound to be a collection of food trucks. Nothing adds to the festivity quite like a dozen boxy vehicles, each emitting a steady stream of delicious food and mouthwatering aromas into the air.
In any given congregation of food trucks, however, Cyndy’s truck stands out. And that’s because it’s not exactly a truck…
“My husband sent me out looking for a food truck. And I came back with a bus,” she recounted when we interviewed her about Food-Lish-Us, the business the couple started together. “My whole thing is I wanted to stand out…I wanted to be different…And so, you have to learn, ‘Okay, what’s the hook.’”
Indeed, her bus-turned-truck is twice as long as an ordinary food truck, cardinal red with a pink accented “Cyndy’s” displayed in large, looping letters. The background is painted to resemble an 80s cafe, complete with records and a checkerboard floor.
In terms of standing out and hooking customers, it does the trick. The unique bus is reflective of its owners, Cyndy and Dennis Scott, a couple united in pursuing their passions, helped along by a small business loan program for veterans like Dennis.
“We wanted to do something for us. Something that we can control, versus somebody telling us we have to punch a clock.”
Their story is captivating, but what really draws a crowd is the food they create together.
Irresistible food that connects a community
Good food has a unique power to bring a crowd together. And the beauty of food trucks is that they congregate first, and the people come after.
“I get the biggest thrill out of watching people enjoy the food and loving it…”
Cyndy’s truck serves homestyle meals “just like Grandma’s,” meant to evoke a feeling of warmth and security. She dishes up burgers, fries, and most notably, Cubanos: a salute to Chef, the movie from which Cyndy and her husband originally got the idea for a food truck.
Indeed, her customers eat it up. Cyndy remembers with particular fondness the Parker Days, an event she served at which had over 300,000 attendees.
“We never had not-a-line in front of us,” Cyndy told us proudly. Throughout the 3-day event, she regularly left the truck to restock on ingredients, navigating through the crowds in a golf cart to reach her car and drive to the nearest grocery. Their truck spontaneously ended up being part of a parade at the end; and afterwards, people wanted to tour the inside.
Of course, there were stressful days, too.
At Brighton’s Tiny House Festival, she and her husband Dennis found themselves frantically trying to put out a grease fire that had combusted on the stove. Remarkably, their customers stayed in line; and once the fire was out, they proceeded to order food as if nothing had happened.
Either way, it seems that customers love Cyndy’s food. And that, for her, is the greatest reward.
“I get the biggest thrill out of watching people enjoy the food and loving it. It brings comfort to me…and it brings comfort to them,” she told us earnestly.
A lifetime of cooking and adventure
Self-described as a jack of all trades, Cyndy has enjoyed a diverse professional background. At age 15 she began her first job as a cook on a guest ranch in Wyoming. After that, she would become a nurse for 25 years, then a bus driver, a beautician, a tour guide, and a saleswoman in the auto industry.
“My life has been one adventure after another. And this is the next chapter of my book.” — Cyndy, states on her website.
Eventually, however, she and her husband Dennis decided they wanted to stop working for corporations and start doing what they loved.
“Our kids thought we were out of our ever-loved minds,” Cyndy laughed. “But we wanted to do something for us. Something that we can control, versus somebody telling us we have to punch a clock.”
She and Dennis began to look into the idea of starting a restaurant. The couple was disappointed to find that a brick-and-mortar restaurant was beyond their means. New inspiration came, however, when they watched Chef, a movie about a talented chef who quits his job in a restaurant to start a food truck, where he can enjoy the freedom of cooking his own recipes — a story not unlike their own.
So when they sold their house, they used the proceeds to buy the bus, taking the opportunity to make their dream into a reality.
Running a food truck is never a cake walk, and it was especially difficult in the beginning. In their first year with the truck, 2017, Cyndy and Dennis relied on the volunteer efforts of their family and friends to staff their business — something which Cyndy greatly appreciated, but laughingly recommended not to do.
“Everyone that knows us, they can’t believe that we have yet to give up…”
To meet various expenses, the couple applied for a loan with a regional bank but were turned away. However, their banker referred them to the Valor program, an extension of Colorado Enterprise Fund (a CDFI that CNote partners with) which offers loans to veterans.
Dennis, who had served in the military and even cooked for the officers, qualified for the loan. After a simple application process, they received an approval within the week.
The loan provided just the financial cushion they needed to meet maintenance fees, buy inventory, and pay for unexpected expenses — like towing bills of up to $1,400 a pop for that oversized bus. In addition to the money, they also received invaluable financial consulting, such as training in Quickbooks. Cyndy recognizes the difference the loan has made in the smooth running of her business, and she is grateful.
“Thanks to the Valor program, we’ve been able to inch our way along without too much of a headache.”
The adventure continues
Today, in addition to Cyndy and Dennis, Food-Lish-Us employs two professional chefs and two general hands. The goal is that Cyndy will spend less time on the truck, focusing instead on background work such as marketing.
As for more long term goals, Cyndy and Dennis are thinking about adding another truck to meet the demand of their food at local events. And they have not quite let go of their dream to start a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
The adventure of the food bus continues — and who knows where it will stop next.
For now, the two are just happy to be along for the ride, doing what they love, on their own terms and bringing a smile to the world one Cubano at a time.
The Colorado Enterprise Fund, was founded in 1976 and is a non-profit lending institution that offers loans to entrepreneurs and small businesses unable to get traditional bank financing. For over 40 years, Colorado Enterprise Fund has been helping people realize their dreams of starting and growing their own businesses.
Food-Lish-Us – Visit their website to find out where they’re going to be serving up food next.
CNote – Interested in helping create another success story? CNote makes it easy to invest in great CDFIs like the CEF The Colorado Enterprise Fund, helping you earn more while having a positive impact on businesses and communities across America.