An award-winning 18-year-old, in opening a food truck, drives home with some important business lessons.
Gabriela Gonzalez-Duarte never thought she’d grow up to be an 18-year-old entrepreneur running a food truck straight out of high school, but here we are.
The journey was littered with startup business potholes —like having the capacity to manage a surge in orders — but Gonzalez-Duarte has overcome many of the hiccups. Originally, Gonzalez-Duarte, a recent Riverview High School graduate, was not interested in joining the Perlman Price Young Entrepreneurs (PYE) program offered through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto counties. But she was recommended by a former PYE student and she eventually embraced the opportunity.
The PYE program teaches high school students how to be their own bosses. The program is offered three times each year and features 15 sessions of classes with practical business advice and guidance from entrepreneurs.
The first step of the program is identifying business opportunities. While owning a food truck wasn’t the initial plan, Gonzalez-Duarte, through research in the program, decided the food industry was the best route to go.
Gonzalez-Duarte's biggest initial challenge in the program was learning how to manage her time — whether meeting a deadline for homework or researching the industry.
She also devoted a lot of time to researching the business. That proved to be a challenge in and of itself. The program is designed for high school students. Part of the course includes drawing up a business plan. “It required a lot of research,” she says.
Even though Gonzalez-Duarte was hesitant to start the spring 2020 program in the first place, she ended up thriving. Toward the end of the program, students enter a competition where they present their business plan and idea to a panel of judges that are made up of community leaders and local entrepreneurs. The judges award seed funding to three students. Gonzalez-Duarte's plan won first place prize with $3,500 in seed funding.
The next challenge was the journey to find the perfect food truck. And that was not as clear cut as one might believe. Gonzalez-Duarte and her family traveled to Miami and Tennessee and Texas before finding her truck in Texas for $26,000 — and that was the least expensive one. With her first place prize and an investment from her parents, Gonzalez-Duart able to cover the down payment for her truck.
Then came the real challenge: putting the business plan in motion. The Latin food truck, Urban Tasty Road, opened in early March.
“The first day we had a lot of people come,” she says. While it was a lot of fun, she owns up to the fact that she was serving food with no prior experience. “We tried to make all of the orders at the same time,” Gonzalez-Duarte says. “That was a disaster.”
The menu includes burgers, sandwiches, traditional Venezuelan dishes, tacos and desserts.
That first day of operations led Gonzalez-Duarte to develop a new process of helping customers. “Now, we take one order at a time to make sure we have the right food for the right people,” she says.
The future holds a lot of promise for Gonzalez-Duarte. She recently graduated from Riverview. The plan is to take a year off to run and grow the food truck business. Her mom, dad and older brother will continue helping her with operations. They will also help fill the void when she goes off to Ohio Wesleyan University in the fall of 2022 to pursue a degree in biochemistry. Eventually, Gabriela plans to attend medical school.
The future of the food truck is not going to stop there. Gabriela has full intentions to continue growing the business with the goal of opening more food trucks somewhere down the road.
“Joining the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties was one of the best things I did,” she says. “Even if you know what you’re doing in the future, just join. You might end up opening your own business.”