We Chat With: Gabriel Wiesen of Beavers Donuts, Chicago's Donut Truck
Even though Chicago finally passed ordinances allowing food trucks to cook onboard, very few owners have taken the city up on its offer to do so. Beavers Donuts is the exception, producing its product to order right on the spot.
Co-owner Gabriel Wiesen says that being able to cook on-board makes all the difference to the success of his food truck: "We have always cooked onboard our truck, and thus the quality of our product has always been received well. We are literally the only [food truck] in Chicago where you can get a donut directly out of the fryer."
On as many as seven mornings a week, Wiesen, along with his co-owner and friend, James Nuccio, park their cop-colored blue donut truck (with a giant beaver on the side) at various scheduled stops around the city. They sell made-to-order mini-donuts and donut holes in regular flavors (cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar, and chocolate dusted), and at least nine gourmet flavors (chocolate sprinkle, s'mores, grandma, loco coco, strawberry bella, turtle, nutella dream, PBJ, and Reese's.)
I caught up with Gabriel Wiesen at the truck's weekly Wabash and VanBuran stop for fresh-brewed coffee and warm, hand-garnished donut holes in almost every flavor. While there he discussed what he's learned since starting the business, how he mastered donut making, and he even shares some big news about their next endeavor.
Since hitting the road, what have you learned about running a food truck? Well, to be honest it has been much harder than we expected. Jim and I have both worked within hospitality for many years in a variety of roles. But taking on all of those roles plus about a hundred new ones all at once has been a challenge. It is not in any way, shape, or form easy work, but it is extremely rewarding.
If you could go back, would you do it all over again? Absolutely we would do it over again! We love our business and our customers and can't imagine doing anything else. If we could have done anything different, it would have been to leap into this business sooner.
Is the goal of the Beavers Donuts to stay on the road as a food truck or would you like to propel the business into a brick and mortar location? The goal of a food truck as a business is to serve great food to many customers, contribute positively to the culinary culture we participate in, and turn an honest profit to provide for our families. Our personal goal has always been to grow Beavers Coffee & Donuts with our truck to a brick and mortar restaurant, and we are happy to say we will be opening our first storefront in downtown Chicago in November this year.
What makes the perfect donut? What have you learned about donuts this year? A perfect donut requires several factors in my opinion; a tested recipe, high quality donut shortening, and made from scratch toppings. Beyond that we have learned A LOT about cooking donuts on a food truck.
The temperature of the truck "kitchen" is always changing, and that definitely plays a factor in relation to the temperature of the shortening, and in our case the temperature of the donut batter and how the donuts fry. Adjustments need to be made between frying donuts in the winter and in the summer.
Most popular donut flavor? Cinnamon Sugar from our regular topped donuts, and Turtle for our gourmet topped donuts.
You are the first truck I have actually seen cook on-board. Were there any glitches you have to get used to when cooking onboard a truck? We had some difficulty getting our donuts to fry correctly during our first week due to our fryer not being level. Every city street, parking lot, and road is different and our cooking equipment has many moving parts requiring a level surface to operate correctly. Building new legs to adjust our equipment to be level took a little time.
Being someone who has been very outspoken and involved in Chicago's food truck movement, what do you think the most important thing business owners should know about how food trucks profit and operate? It is a hard-earned path to middle income at best. You have limited overhead compared to a brick and mortar restaurant, but also limited capacity to turn out food because of space restrictions and limited employees. You can turn a honest profit, but you can fail just as easily. Please support your local food trucks and street vendors.
Beavers Donuts recently filed a discrimination lawsuit this summer against the city of Evanston over being blocked from dealing donuts in the city and around Northwestern University. Has anything come of that? How can people who want to support you help? We have filed a lawsuit against the city of Evanston, charging their food truck law that requires a food truck operator to own a brick and mortar restaurant in order to operate a food truck in Evanston. It is unconstitutional under both U.S federal and Illinois State law. All citizens are allowed equal protection under the constitution and you can not favor one group over another and create a law that has nothing to do with protecting the public.
Advice for anyone who wants to open a food truck? Call me. My family has been building food trucks for over 10 years. We build 60-70 trucks a year and have sold trucks to all 50 states, guaranteed to pass all local health and fire codes.