I started as an H&R Block tax preparer and franchisee while Laura was an H&R Block Office Manager. During the rest of my adventures in employment, Laurabeth was keeping the home fires burning as a stay at home household manager and home schooling mom to three absolutely amazing children; William, Daniel, and Emma Grace. I cut my teeth in the restaurant business at Golden Corral while in high school and college learning everything from dish washing up.
We always wanted a family business where we could work along side each other and our children. To continue their education in a real world laboratory where they could see what it was like getting a business going from scratch and learn skills in a real world environment that they could never acquire in a classroom or college experience. We wanted to teach life skills that would serve them forever no matter what they did and we couldn’t think of a better way then the real heat of customer service and the daily grind of the hospitality industry.
Honestly, we weren’t looking to get into the wood-fired industry but we wanted to start a pizza restaurant and had started branding a concept similar to Blaze, Pizza Rev, and several others utilizing a high temp oven but ultimately ran into trouble with restaurant financing and location selection in a college town so we had to scrap the business plan for that brick and mortar but figure out a way to keep our family dream alive. Pizza was a family favorite and something the rest of the world enjoyed as well. So much so that the college town we were starting in already had 16 different restaurants that were either exclusively pizzerias or served pizza on their menus and that total did not include all of the convenience stores that had pizza available as well.
Fire Within’s mobile wood-fired ovens gave us the opportunity to keep our family dream alive by going mobile. We were able to show our community at large a viable pizza concept that was very different from what they were already used to. We did embrace wood-fired concept identity (the oven we would have used would have been gas) and ultimately realized the far superior nature of the product and made it part of our brand as well. Being wood-fired is really the signature that would separate us from the franchised and mechanized versions of what pizza had become in the US and expose them to a far superior product unlike any they had experienced before locally and the novelty of it being mobile just made it generate that much more buzz when we should set up.
As our business grew and our popularity increased, we had to address the capacity and logistic issues in our commissary and community. As demand grew we had to manage our dough so we could serve all week from a space that we didn’t have full or exclusive control of or space in. We lost a lot of dough our first year from other people’s employees being careless in that shared space, and as our sales and popularity grew we also found it necessary to add a second trailer for all of those special days we needed to be in two places at once. Again, logistically that created a brand new set of struggles with staffing, planning, and prepping. The ultimate fix was us acquiring a property that would be our own that we could also plan for our future.
Today our struggles are very different, we now have our food truck, an exclusive catering trailer, a quick service restaurant and our own commissary kitchen to service it all with dedicated dough makes who sometimes make dough up to 4 days a week! What have I found to be the most rewarding/best part of being a mobile wood-fired oven owner? It’s been two-fold. It’s been the time spent with my family at some amazing events and getting to share those experiences with my family in a way that I could never have otherwise and in getting to know so many wonderful people in our community! I’ve noticed that fire is both primal and communal so it instantly draws people in and they love to watch the process, take pictures, and talk to us and about us. For some of them its even been infectious and addictive but we love to see that kind of excitement in our community! It’s rewarding to know they are rooting for us and our success!
We found support from our families, both emotionally and financially. They are on board with us and have been our best advocates and sounding boards along with loudest cheerleaders! And among our cheerleaders was also our family of faith. They too have also been so encouraging throughout this journey, from the selling of the H&R Block franchise to the ultimate dream fulfillment of opening the restaurant, they have been with us cheering us on every step of the way. No list of support would be complete without the whole Fire Within team. They have been a great resource in times of need and doubt and the online community has been invaluable to bounce ideas off of or to follow their threads. Having a group and community that we know shares the real and eminent struggles with and to just know we’re not alone in our struggles (or insanity) is hugely helpful. Getting to know other food truckers around the state and joining their forums and groups also gives good insight into what is going around and coming down the legislative pipeline.
Today, we are fully immersed in the restaurant and catering experience! We’ve parked the food truck aspect of our business through winter after 2 years of hard charging service. We’ve had it out almost daily and have run it very hard trying to keep up with demand and staying on the positive side of cash flow so it is in dire need of some maintenance and repair. With us having our own commissary and dining room it has added a new dynamic to our family and business. I’ll miss the food trucking during this 4 month break because its a more intimate guest experience and the volume is so different in the restaurant. But we are certainly celebrating the multiple steams of revenue provided between the food truck, the catering, the restaurant, and even the smaller events we cater out of the restaurant that we couldn’t justify taking the trailers out to.