Sarah Flores, Loli’s Streatery
In early 2021, sisters Sarah Flores and Sabrina Lozano were at a crossroads. At the time, Sarah was a student and Sabrina was a travelling COVID nurse. After seeing an ad for a food truck on Craigslist, they decided to take the leap into entrepreneurship by opening Loli’s Streatery in May of 2021 in Corpus Christi, Texas. Loli’s Streatery specializes in Tex-Mex fusion, with their signature dish being the Original Loaded Mexican Street Corn Bowl.
Episode 32 – Sarah Flores, Loli’s Streatery
[00:00:55] Sanjay Parekh: Today's guest is Sarah Flores. Sarah is the co-founder of Loli's Streatery, a Tex-Mex food truck, home of the Original Loaded Street Corn Bowl. She runs the business along with her sister, Sabrina Lozano. They're based in Corpus Christi, Texas. Sarah, welcome to the show.
[00:01:12] Sarah Flores: Hello, Sanjay. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:16] Sanjay Parekh: So, I'm excited to have you on because I think all of us kind of dream of doing food trucks and things like that. I think it's the allure of it with TV shows and everything. But before we start talking about the business, give us a little bit about your background and what got you to where you are right now.
[00:01:33] Sarah Flores: Well, I have no professional culinary experience, no entrepreneurial experience. I started the business with my sister when we were both at this crossroads of our lives of wanting to do something for ourselves. And my background is, I've worked in entertainment, performance. I've worked in concierge, I've worked in like sales, I've worked in all these different avenues of things, and I never really felt like they lined up for anything specifically until I started a business and somehow all of these skills that I've learned have given me the tools that I need for our business. But we've started the food truck, we've been running it for about two years now and so far, we've been doing all right.
[00:02:23] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, it's interesting, like you've got this background in dealing with people and customer engagement and things like that. I imagine that has really helped because that's all a food truck is about is like that hand-to-hand combat with customers, right? Of engaging with them and bringing them in. Do you draw upon those lessons a lot, or do they get reinforced when you're working the food truck?
[00:02:53] Sarah Flores: Absolutely. There's so many different parts of this business, but one of the really big important ones is our engagement with consumers because that's what — I mean, we would not be anything without the people that love us and try our food and come back. So, we try to appreciate that about people. We have our regulars who are just our favorite people in the world. We have our people that came to our side of the road food truck when we had no idea what we were doing. And they're still with us two years later. So, we try to recognize those people. We try to, hey, I saw you last week. What’re you doing? You want your usual? And there's things that happen where it's maybe not so fun with consumers and stuff and we're not perfect, we mess up or things get lost in communication. So, that recovery and trying to speak just in the best way that we can to our consumers is so important for our business.
[00:03:55] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Is this the first time you've done anything entrepreneurial, or did you do things when you were younger when you were a kid? Were there any entrepreneurs in the family?
[00:04:05] Sarah Flores: Yeah. Mine and Sabrina's dad, he has been an entrepreneur forever. He’s just one of those guys. That's just always in something. Oh, like, I failed this. So, I'm going to make it a business, just that kind of guy. What really helped him excel is he has a business in real estate and the house flipping things and just him and my mom do this together where he does one side of it and my mom does the other and they come together and they're just able to function a business. So, we have had a lot of guidance from them and being able to say, okay, this is how you should plan out your day. This is how like you should document this. But real estate and food are two completely different businesses. So, it's still very, very different and so much of a learning experience every single day that we're doing this.
[00:05:03] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. That's awesome. But for you and your sister, did you guys ever do anything when you were younger, like entrepreneurial?
[00:05:13] Sarah Flores: Honestly, no. Sabrina is a nurse, and she is a mom. She's a mom of three. She's a wife. She's got this beautiful house. And I'm so proud of my sister. And she's been a nurse forever. She graduated high school and then went to college, and she's just been this extremely amazing, really caring nurse. So, with a nurse and like a full-time job and a family and everything she wasn't able to do anything entrepreneurial. And I was traveling. I lived in Florida for a while. I had all these random jobs. I always thought that maybe I should try to do something of my own, but I never acted on it until I had to, and sometimes you don't really get to do anything, or you don't get to learn until you actually just go for it, and that's what we did. We were just like, You want to just do something? And we weren't sure if it was going to be real estate, or if it was going to be like, a just, I don't know, a lemonade stand. But we ran into this opportunity. My dad was just, hey, there's a food truck online. Y'all want to try it? And also, the thing is, I have always thought I should go into food. I always thought if I allow myself to cook, I think it would work. So, as soon as he showed us that food truck, I was like, oh, you're going to regret saying that. There’s no going back at this point. And so, we just decided to do it.
[00:06:51] Sanjay Parekh: So, that’s awesome. So, this whole thing happened because your dad saw the food truck for sale online. That was, like the serendipity of it all?
[00:07:01] Sarah Flores: It was just this like perfect storm, because like I said I had lost my job and my apartment and everything because of COVID in Florida. So, I moved back home, and I had some money saved up and I was like, okay, maybe I'll invest it in something. So, I went to my dad, like, Do you have any advice? And Sabrina was in the same boat. She was a travel nurse, so she was going all over Texas. She was pregnant, actually, at the time. She was a pregnant, COVID ICU travel nurse. And she came back, and she was just also in the same boat, where she's like, I have a little bit of money, I want to invest it in something. What can I do? And we, I didn't know that she was doing that. She didn't know that I was, like, talking to my dad. My dad, just he just is always browsing Craigslist. He's always just yeah, flip that, do this, he's just, that man. He was like why don't y'all do this little side gig kind of thing where y'all just have a little food truck and you sell Frito Pies and whatever. And that's kind of how it started. We were supposed to do just a simple menu and, which absolutely nothing is wrong with that. I admire so many people that have those kinds of menus where it's like Frito Pie and concessions and stuff. But once we got it, we were like let's try and do something a little bit different. And it, exactly what is this podcast called? Like side hustle?
[00:08:31] Sanjay Parekh: It's Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast.
[00:08:33] Sarah Flores: That's exactly what happened with us. It was just supposed to be this like little side gig and now we have a running functional business of two years that is doing, I think it's doing pretty well.
[00:08:45] Sanjay Parekh: So, for both of you, it started as a side hustle. Is your sister still a nurse? Is she doing this still as a side hustle, and this is full time for you or how's the split between the two of you?
[00:08:56] Sarah Flores: She is just, oh my gosh, she is just one of those power people. There's just some people who just want to do it all and they can and it's like, how do you do it? But they do it. But she is still a nurse full time. She's a hospice nurse now, so she's not traveling, but all over Texas, she still travels. She is still, of course, a mom she still is an active part of her children's lives but she's still able to come and we both make all of our business decisions together. There's not a single decision that we don't make together. She is still there and she's able to help me prep on food. She comes and takes orders on the truck. She is a very interactive person. She's a huge part of our business. That being said, I have been a student for the past two years. I actually just graduated with my bachelor's degree. Which is great.
[00:09:54] Sanjay Parekh: Congratulations! That’s awesome.
[00:09:56] Sarah Flores: Thank you. For the most part I have been just the one to deal with planning events, scheduling. We both share marketing responsibilities, but we just have our own roles in the business. We both have our own roles, and it just comes together in a way that we just figured it out. It was hard at the beginning just splitting things, but now we've figured it out and how we share roles.
[00:10:24] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Listeners might understand because I don't know that I have any concept of what this would be, but buying a food truck, how much are we talking about that it costs to buy a used food truck like this? Like, where did you guys land in terms of having to spend to buy that?
[00:10:42] Sarah Flores: Yeah, this was supposed to be something that was an investment of money, not necessarily a financed thing. We weren't planning on getting it to debt or anything for it, so luckily, that was something that we were able to do. We were able to just purchase it the food truck itself, when we started, I want to say it was, like, $25,000, but it had all the equipment in it. It had, really everything we needed to just have a very, like, that basic menu that we were going to talk about earlier, that we were talking about earlier, where it's Frito Pies and things like that, it would have been perfect for that. But after we nailed down the menu and we realized, okay, we need this, we need that, if we want to make it work, we have to do this. So, we still had to spend another, maybe like $5,000 in renovations and new equipment and getting it exactly how we wanted to. Painting, it was just great, very lime green, bright colored little dingy truck when we first got it, and it was so cute, but we wanted it to reflect us and our menu and we have this really nice blue. Soo it, total for a used, it could go anywhere from twenty to thirty thousand dollars.
[00:12:02] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, that's a good benchmark for people to know and understand if they want to run a food truck, what it's going to take to make it all happen. So, when you were starting this business was there anything that made you nervous about making this leap into this and going all in? And if so, how did you overcome that?
[00:12:22] Sarah Flores: We, both were, I think it was just, it was so fast, it was so fast, the way everything moved. Because we bought the trailer, and then we let it sit for a little bit while we were figuring out just everything, menu, like, all of those things, renovations. But once we got to a certain point where, I think what we had to do was we just had to schedule an event that we couldn't get out of. And our very first event, we had to pay a fee to get into that event, so of course, we're going to do it. So, once we scheduled that event, we're like, okay, permit, licensing, getting the menu straight, like getting the equipment. And once we got to that, it just moved so fast, there was no time to be nervous. There was no time because you wake up at six in the morning, work all day, 14, 15 hours on the food truck. And then you go to bed and there's no time to think about, ah, this is scary because you're so tired and you just go to bed. But, of course, we still were nervous. We still were nervous. It's something that neither of us had done before. But we just knew that if we wanted to make it work, we’ve just got to go for it. We’ve just got to go for it and do our absolute best. And that's what we did.
[00:13:44] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, and the business that you picked. For somebody that's not in the food space is to me a little bit difficult because there's all these regulations and health regulations that you have to have on top of it and you have to comply with and do really well with. Otherwise you can get in big trouble. You can make people sick and, all this kind of stuff. How did you figure all of that stuff out?
[00:14:07] Sarah Flores: It was a process. It was a process. I think we purchased the truck in February, and we didn't open until, we had our grand opening late May, early June. So, this was six months of us planning and like I said, renovating, but the application process can be a little bit lengthy, and it can be a little bit intimidating because, of course, you have to get food service, food handlers for your staff. You have to have a food manager. So, I'm the food manager and I have to be on the truck whenever it's open, at all times. Because you have to have somebody who is knowledgeable, but also a little bit further, you’ve got to have a manager. I think it was a little bit intimidating, however, knowing that we are just a mobile restaurant, and we're in all these environments and we're dealing with a lot of dangerous stuff. We deal with propane, we deal with gas, we deal with ventilation, fire itself. We literally have running fire in the food truck. It's dangerous, so I'm glad we have these permits and licensing in place because it taught me a lot of how to properly handle my business, how to properly run it. It's hard, but it's necessary. It's a necessary difficulty, I guess.
[00:15:38] Adam Walker: Support for this podcast comes from Hiscox. Committed to helping small businesses protect their dreams since 1901. Quotes and information on customized insurance for specific risks are available at Hiscox.com. Hiscox, business insurance experts.
[00:15:57] Sanjay Parekh: So, talking about difficulty. Running a business like this and having life and all of those things at the same time, it's stressful. How do you manage and think about stress with the business. And you're not even in the same location day to day, right? You're moving around all over the city. And then life and personal commitments and family and friends and all that stuff. How do you think about managing stress with all of that?
[00:16:29] Sarah Flores: Oh, it is stressful. It is stressful. Because, for me. I was a student, and I was a student full time, so juggling that. I think a lot of people see a food truck, and they see that it's only open two or three days a week, or maybe four days a week, and they're just like, oh you show up, you give out the food, and then you go home. But it is, oh my god, I wish.
A lot of it has to do with the fact that we're a scratch kitchen, so we put so much care and effort into our food. All of our sauces are made from scratch. I cut through, I don't know, a hundred pounds of meat a week. Sometimes I have a hundred pounds of meat just for a given day. And I have to cut it, and I have to marinate it. Yeah, it can be very stressful because it's okay, we have a three-hour service, but it takes a day and a half of prep just to get to that point. And then we’ve got to clean afterwards, and then it's so lengthy. However, managing all that, I think Sabrina and I have, and we've talked about this, where it's like sometimes the best thing that we can do to manage our stress is to just look at the progress that we've made and the regulars that we have and the people that keep coming back. And things like this kind of just lift us up because we have a fun story and we've made it work. It's like sometimes you just need to take a step back and be like, I did that.
For example, this past weekend we had a really big event in Kingsville, which is like an hour and a half drive from us with that trailer. And it was like, it was only four hours, but we were expected to put out like 300 plates. And it was a huge amount of planning and delegating and making sure everything's on time. And just a huge amount of management. But at the end of it, we were just like, oh my god, we made it work. There were some things that maybe could have been done better or this or that. But at the end of the day, we did that. And we kind of know what we're doing now and that feels really good and that just takes away all of that like anxiety of, can I do it? Can I not do it? It's no, we've already done it and we'll be okay on the next one because we just did it before.
[00:18:54] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, so right now, it's been two years you've got the one truck. What's the grand vision here? A lot of people that do food trucks, they're eventually, they want to have a storefront, a place that doesn't roll around on wheels. Is that the idea or, what's the grand vision for you two?
[00:19:14] Sarah Flores: It's hard because we love the food truck life. I love just being a huge part of community events. We do things like farmers markets and art walks and even things like birthday parties and stuff. But, at the same time we do, we want to grow, and we need to grow. We have ideas with our menu that we want to see expanded. Because a lot of people don't get the chance to see us because, they're like, oh, I have to keep up with them when they're going to be open. Oh, it looks good, but I have to go find them. We want to grow. We want everybody in Corpus to know about us. Like we have plans to make it out of Corpus. We want things in San Antonio and Austin.
So, next step, we would love to do a brick and mortar. We have ideas about a really cool bar that we'd like to do. And like a little bit of a rebranding with us. But that will take some time. It's on the horizon for us right now. But we still love our little food truck. It's gotten us to where we are. We love her. We never want to give her up. Even if we do open a restaurant, we want to keep her around for a while. But we do really want to grow, and we are considering a lot of different options with it.
[00:20:34] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, it's interesting. I've seen quite a few just in the last few years, there's such an interest in food trucks. I've seen organizations that have many, many dozens of store fronts that have moved into having food trucks so that they can do what you're talking about, go to events and things like that, where they can provide more than just the canned food that they would have provided, like the prepackaged stuff and it's a little bit more fresh. Yeah, I think the path that you're on is pretty interesting.
[00:21:09] Sarah Flores: Have you heard of the restaurant Chi’Lantro?
[00:20:13] Sanjay Parekh: No, I haven't.
00:21:15] Sarah Flores: They've always been like our, not so much in terms of menu, but just like in terms of business idea, they are our inspiration. I actually tried them years ago in a storefront and I was like, oh, this is so good It's Korean fusion, But I saw them on Shark Tank not too long ago and I looked them up and they had started on a food truck. A Korean immigrant, and he started on a food truck and then now they branched into brick and mortar but now they have 10 locations of brick and mortars, and then they also have their food trucks going around the city too. So, they found a way to keep them together and, the food truck can go to the events, and people can still show up and have lunch in this spot where they can sit down in the brick and mortar. I think that's like ideal for us, because our menu is so food trucky. It's so fun for a community event, so we would love to do something like that in the future.
[00:22:14] Sanjay Parekh: So, I find it interesting. I've got a question for you about boundaries. Because it's so easy to let these things blend together, especially when you're doing a food business, because your friends want to come and hang out because you've got a food truck and oh, Sarah's got the food truck. Let's go eat and hang out with her. How do you deal with setting boundaries? And making sure that work doesn't bleed into everything that you do?
[00:22:43] Sarah Flores: Oh, that's a hard one because I am so proud of this business. And sometimes I do let it become just everything I want to talk about because I'm so proud of it. But at the same time, I do try and separate it a little bit. And bringing up how you were talking about friends want to come by and stuff, I love seeing people, and I love befriending people who come to the truck because they just love the food and then they think we're cool, so we end up talking and everything. But at the same time, it can be difficult to work and also have those conversations. What's hilarious, there's an art walk that we do. It's the first of the month, it's every single month. And it's like the community event of the month. Everybody's out there. There's bars, there's little vendors and stuff. And it's just, a lot of our friends show up. So, they'll come to the truck and be like, hey, Sarah, how you doing? Oh my gosh this and this. I'm out here with this. And I'm trying to turn my asada, and I'm trying to put tacos together, and I'm trying to plate, and I'm like, what's up guys? Okay, cool. Good. Good to see you, man. All right. Let me turn this real quick. It's also hilarious because I like that they get to see me in action and I like that they get to be like, Oh, okay. This is Sarah, like in her mode right now. So, it's hard to separate the boundaries, but overall, I think it just comes with the territory of doing something you're really proud of.
[00:24:29] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. That's a funny thing right there because your friends are like, I'm just going to go say hi to Sarah, but Sarah is working. Like I am in full work mode, and they don't always necessarily recognize that.
[00:24:42] Sarah Flores: And we're just so open, like the food truck is covered in windows and everything. So, you really can't see every single thing that we're doing in the food truck. So, it's very it's very much like just this open way for people to be like, hey!
[00:24:56] Sanjay Parekh: If you were in a kitchen in a restaurant, they would not see you. There would be no way to just say, hey and something like that. Okay. So, you've been at this for a couple of years now. If you could go back in time and do something differently, what would that be and why?
[00:25:17] Sarah Flores: That's a great question. Honestly, I think everything that we've done has been so necessary to the development. This would be something that I would tell myself. I think I would have liked to have seen myself a little bit more open to criticism and open to ideas a little bit more because at the end of the day, all of this, we're family run. And it's not just me and my sister. It's my dad who was, I drive the trailer now, but my dad was driving the trailer for a year and a half, and my mom was helping prep. It is a family business being that me and Sabrina manage everything, sometimes it can feel like if people are providing suggestions, It's a little bit more of a critique on you. And that's not the case. Everybody just wants to see the business go and succeed as much as it can. And they've got, Okay this is how you can do this, and this is how you can do this. Sometimes I can be a little bit of a, there's yes man, I'm like a no man. And I'm like that won't work because of this, but I think if I could change anything, I would be a little bit more open to listening. And that's something that I think I've been doing a good job now of, but I know there have been ways in the past that we could have benefited if I was a little bit more open. But we learn, and we grow and that's all I can do.
[00:26:51] Sanjay Parekh: That is some great self-reflection and I love that. Okay, two more questions for you. One, what would you tell someone who's thinking about taking a leap and launching a side hustle like y'all did or taking their side hustle and making it a full-time business?
[00:27:08] Sarah Flores: I would say, don't take your time. If you want to do it, then you have to just jump in with it. Because this is a tough industry. This is a tough industry. Food, we're talking food, we're talking the business side of it. Food alone is rough, opening a business is rough, but a food business is hard, especially whenever you don't have this brick and mortar to keep all of your stuff and everything's in one place. You have to plan, and you have to do this and that. I know there's hard things about opening a restaurant, too, so it's going to be hard. I think just coming to terms with the fact that it's going to be hard, you are going to struggle, but you can't let that hinder you. You just have to be okay with being uncomfortable because there will be, I think there's probably been like a handful of times in two years where everything went as it was supposed to. And adaptability is the name of the game. If you can't adapt, then what are you going to do? You're never going to grow. Just getting to be comfortable with being uncomfortable is my suggestion.
[00:28:30] Sanjay Parekh: Okay, last question for you. Most of our listeners, including me, are nowhere near Corpus Christi, so we're not going to be able to come to Loli's Streatery. What is the one secret? Well, when we come, we will come by Loli's. And come and chat with you while you're working. But while we don't have that opportunity, what's the one thing that we could do to make excellent street corn at home?
[00:29:01] Sarah Flores: That's a great question because you can make really good street corn off the cob, but you can also make really good street corn out of the can. I think the key absolutely is figuring out a way to get a good char on your corn. If you can figure out how. Throw it in the cast iron. Go to your kitchen right now. Pull out your cast iron skillet and just throw some corn on there. I don't care if you got it from a bag or from, get a good char on it. Look up some really Mexican spices. I won't give out our spice game, but secret recipes and all that. But, yeah, just, you can find ways to make it a quality dish without having to spend all the money or having to be like in a real commercial kitchen just, but the secret is I think the way that you get it to get as close to authentic as you can is make sure you get like a good little char on it.
[00:29:55] Sanjay Parekh: Nice. That is a good tip right there. Sarah, this has been fantastic. Where can our listeners find and connect with you online?
[00:30:06] Sarah Flores: We are on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. No Twitter, but Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. Loli’s Streatery, Streatery is ‘eatery on the street.’ @Lolisstreatery on Instagram, Facebook, Loli's Streatery and then TikTok, at LolisStreatery361. Streatery, Streatery, Streatery. How many times can you say that fast?
[00:30:34] Sanjay Parekh: And they can use those accounts to find out where you are, right? You guys post where the truck is.
[00:30:43] Sarah Flores: There's actually a really, and even if you're not near us or you're not planning on coming to see us, there's a website called Street Food Finder that's a really good tool for finding food trucks. I’m pretty sure it's nationwide, but you can just see what food trucks or tent vendors are nearby. Not restaurants, but specifically food truck and tent vendors because we all have different hours and different locations. So, StreetFoodFinder.com/LolisStreatery. We post that on all of our social medias. But also, if you just want to see what's around you and also see where we're going to be at, that's the best place to find us.
[00:31:18] Sanjay Parekh: Man, that's an awesome bonus tip right there. I love that.
[00:31:21] Sarah Flores: Yes, support your food trucks, guys!
[00:31:24] Sanjay Parekh: Love it. Love it. Sarah's. Thanks so much for being on the show today.
[00:31:27] Sarah Flores: Thank you so much, Sanjay, for having us. This has been so much fun.
[00:31:34] Sanjay Parekh: Thanks for listening to this week's episode of the side hustle to small business podcast powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit Hiscox.com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit Hiscox.com/shareyourstory. I'm your host, Sanjay Parekh. You can find out more about me at my website, SanjayParekh.com.