Sinking your teeth into a really good burger is one of those indescribably sublime pleasures of life. I mean a loaded burger that’s done right. The meat is seasoned and seared hot, the juices and cheese flow like rivers of flavor, the toppings are fresh and the bun is warm and perfectly light. I have to wear a bib just writing about it!
It’s no wonder when Dallas Shaw started making and serving a loaded burger like that in Nashville, TN, people began flocking to his food truck. The St. Louis native hit the streets of Music City with his gourmet-style burger brand in August 2011. Hoss’ Loaded Burgers has been rolling ever since, bringing stuffed burgery bliss to locals and tourists alike.
Mr. Shaw took some time on a recent snow day break to talk with me about his business.
Who is this guy anyway?
A husband for 7 years and a new father for nearly 6 months now, Shaw is the founder and owner of Hoss’ Loaded Burgers, a food truck based in Nashville, TN.
Growing up, Shaw loved cooking as a way to spend time in the kitchen with his mom and grandmother, helping to whip up family meals. That love grew into an affinity for the craft that attached itself to the young man like a slice of perfectly melted cheese, clinging tightly to a piping hot beef patty. This is one of those things that simply becomes part of who you are. It stays true even if you follow your parents’ wishes like Shaw did when he pursued a college career, achieving an MBA in Leadership Management from his dad’s Alma Mater, Freed-Hardeman University.
On the Real World
Shaw began his post-college life working for the Walgreen Co. in Dyersburg, TN and within three years moved to Nashville to work as a National Account Manager for AT&T. While the job and pay were sufficient, it wasn’t Shaw’s slice of melty cheese. He would only find that by getting back into the kitchen.
In April 2011, the soon-to-be Hoss Boss saw it. Like a giant block of American Cheddar making its way down a crowded street – there was a food truck. At the time, there were only a small handful of food trucks in Nashville and they were more novelty than the culinary-cultural phenomenon they are today. Knowing he didn’t have experience running a full service, brick and mortar-style restaurant, however, Shaw saw his future in that truck. In less than 6 months, he would make it happen.
How Shaw Went from Stuck to Truck
Ok, he may not have been stuck in a dead end 9-5 job. With his education and skills, Shaw had options, but working for someone else, performing a job that wasn’t fulfilling to him, simply didn’t line up with his passion. Be honest, how many people do you know who ARE stuck – people who don’t take a step out to chase their dreams because of fear or excuses? Shaw didn’t want to be one of those people. He chose not to be stuck and decided to take a chance; something that you could do right now as well. Take the first step, following his example. Dallas Shaw is proof that you can create success for yourself.
The aspiring burger baron put pen to paper and began drafting a business plan before he even had a name for his business. And he never even read my post, “Why a Business Plan Should be the First Thing You Create – Even Before Naming Your Business” Good strategy is just good strategy!
Business Plan 101
Doing his homework, Shaw assessed himself, determining that he didn’t have the experience or capital to open and run a full service restaurant. What he did have were solid leadership skills, a mind for business, a desire to learn and a love for cooking. Most importantly, he had the drive to make things happen and the insight to plan for success.
Continuing into Market research he learned that there were only five other food trucks, and only three gourmet-style burger places in Nashville at the time. Further research uncovered that nobody else was offering a cheese-stuffed burger, making the market ripe for a menu item known as a “Juicy Lucy” or “Jucy Lucy” depending on which originator you prefer. (This burger has a fun story. You can read about it on Wikipedia: Jucy Lucy)
Money – It’s a Hit
After working through his business summary, figuring out his financials and squaring away his menu, it was time to get a loan. Shaw describes his loan experience as one of the scariest times in his food truck career. The person he was buying the truck from needed a down payment. But there was a problem. The bank had not come through on the loan yet! So Shaw sent the seller $3600 of his own savings, unsure whether he would end up getting the loan at all. After a bit of lost sleep, Shaw received the call from the bank that the loan had cleared. He got his truck and all was well…. well, except for the long hours and hard work to get his new business set up while still working his full time job!
The Reward for Hard Work is… More Hard Work?
Wait a second! So if I work hard, fight my way out from under the Nine-to-Five, 40-hour week oppression, tell my boss to take a hike and then strike out on my own, I don’t get to prop my feet up and just let the money start rolling in?!
“Every stop light is my office,” notes Shaw, “If you’re going to own your own business, starting a food truck doesn’t mean it will be easier than [starting] a full service restaurant or anything else.” As a food truck owner, or owner of any small start-up, you have to wear a lot of hats. Just to name a few of those hats; you manage logistics, perform Human Resources duties, accounting, cooking, washing dishes, marketing and even mechanical maintenance. “If you want a job that’s 40 hours per week and then you clock out, then do something else.” advises Shaw.
“I enjoy being my own boss,” Shaw explains, “And having all the good and bad that goes with that,” noting that the consequences of all decisions, good or bad, belong to him. “I have the freedom to do my own thing.”
What exactly is Shaw’s “own thing”?
You mean besides smart business planning and making great-big-juicy-stuffed-with-cheese-and-flavor burgers to order?
Ponderances & Philosophy
Shaw, discussing his love of cooking, remarked, “I enjoy the chemistry of it – the science.” He goes on to contemplate, “Why does baking soda make bread rise… why do starches thicken things… how do eggs bind recipes together… why do certain ingredients react the way they do with other ingredients – in certain temperatures?” Being a cook who is glad to follow a recipe, Shaw is an entrepreneur at heart, so he explained how much fun he has picking a recipe apart, changing it and making something new, “I can change it to make it better – make it mine,” stated Shaw, noting that most of what he serves on his food truck came about in this manner.
At this point in the conversation, this magnificent master of grilled meat hit me with the core of his philosophy. A statement that embodies the courageous and creative spirit of an entrepreneur; an idea that sets folks like Shaw apart from people who simply sit back and let the world come to them. “I enjoy grocery shopping. You have a store full of possibilities that you can turn into almost anything.” explained Shaw.
Why is that statement so profound? Because it describes an attitude and a frame of mind. Shaw, like many, was working a 40-hour per week job, benefiting someone else’s bottom line. He simply wasn’t passionate about it. So he looked out at the market, at the world around him, and saw a life full of possibilities that you can turn into almost anything. He took a recipe for how to make a living and made it better; Shaw made it is own. He didn’t simply take an opportunity to do something. The determined fellow MADE an opportunity to do something. He had a passion for cooking and feeding people that was rooted in his heart; planted there in the form of memories of time spent with people he loves.
What’s Going on Now for Hoss’ Loaded Burgers?
All the planning, hard work, courage and passion worked together to spell success for Shaw. There were only 5 food trucks in Nashville when he started in 2011. Today there are over 90. While many food trucks have come and gone, Hoss’ Loaded Burgers is still there, stuffing burgers and making taste buds happy.
For a while Shaw lead the Nashville Food Truck Association as the organization’s president; an organization that offers mentorship, advice and assistance to entrepreneurs who want to start or have started a food truck in the area. Even though he handed over the official reigns of leadership of the organization in June 2017, Shaw remains a leader within the food truck community. “I enjoy being an asset for people; helping them grow and do better.” It’s a rightful point of pride for the successful businessman; a validation of his accomplishments.
Putting down roots
With two completely paid for food trucks now sporting the Hoss’ logo, Shaw believes the next order of business is potentially a brick and mortar location. “I wasn’t ready for a full restaurant when I started,” noted Shaw. “Now that I have built a well-known Nashville brand and I have expanded my business acumen, I feel I have a better chance of being successful starting and sustaining a restaurant.” Faced again with the decision to sit in one place or leap, the question whether the pursuit of a brick and mortar location is the right choice is on Shaw’s mind. Doubtless, his business plan will guide him in this endeavor, and we will see “Hoss’ Loaded Burgers” on a permanent marquise in Nashville pretty soon!
Tools of the Trade
(note: I’m not an affiliate of any of the companies I’ve linked under this header)
“Social media is best for building your business.” explains Shaw. “Having that avenue of direct contact with your customers – they can say how much they loved a burger and you can reply to them in a minute; that’s amazing.” You can’t beat a free resource like that. Shaw also uses social media to let his customers know where the truck will be each day.
Hoss’ Loaded Burgers uses an SMS service as well that allows customers to learn the truck’s location by texting the word ‘burger’ to 88000
A website. You can’t really run a small business, or any business, these days without one. Shaw set up hossburgers.com to give customers a convenient way to learn more about his business, check out his menu, discover where the truck is and more. He has plans to roll out a refreshed version of his site soon. Make sure to add it to your bookmarks and visit again soon to check that out!
Want to purchase a Hoss gift card? Shaw uses squareup.com to manage that. Just go here and buy your card. Heck, buy one for me too. I always accept free burgers! Especially when they’re so damn good!
You can now pre-order a Hoss’ Loaded Burger online by going to the website or by clicking on this link – togoorder.com handles this service for Shaw.
The food truck’s point of sale system (the way they receive payment) is Square. For those who are familiar with the company, their service has evolved far past the simple iPhone dongle that they started with.
“As a burger place, our most important tool in the kitchen is a good spatula.” explains Shaw. Perhaps a little unconventional, the favored tool for this on the truck is a large putty knife; cleaned, sanitized and only used for burger flipping, of course. Could you call this tool a patty putty knife? Maybe a sputtula? No, I guess that sounds like a medical procedure…. Anyway. Clearly, Shaw’s ingenuity affects every aspect of his business!
It’s Not a Loaded Burger, but it’s Time to Stick a Toothpick In It
If you haven’t had a chance to try one of the Hoss’ Loaded Burgers, you’re missing out. You should consider finding out where one of the trucks will be this week and make an excuse to head that way. If I could make a recommendation, try “The Italian Job” with some Hoss’ Cajun Fries – just go all cultural with your experience. Pro tip: grab an extra napkin or two and make a little time after lunch to call your friends and gloat about the burger you just had!
Find and follow Hoss’ Loaded Burgers online!
Interested in more stories about small food businesses? Check out these posts:
Other grocery images taken from Pexels
All other photos are courtesy of Dallas Shaw
A special thanks to Dallas Shaw for taking time to do an interview with me and for sharing contact information for potential future getNOMSblog post subjects.