In a competitive food market, it takes a unique kind of product to succeed.
Anthony Felt and Rick Gooch spent two years in Monterrey, Mexico, consuming copious amounts of La Campechana street tacos.
“I ate my first Campechana four days into my mission,” Gooch said. “It was the best thing that I have ever eaten.”
Fueled by their obsession, BYU grads Felt, Gooch and business partner Mike Jensen have started Pico Norte, an authentic Mexican taco truck in Provo. Despite the difficult nature of Provo’s food industry, the team is confident they will thrive.
“We believe if we can make the tacos taste anything like they do in Monterrey, they will 100 percent be the best tacos in the U.S.,” Gooch said.
“Our truck is unique because no one does the tacos like we do,” Felt said.
Perhaps the secret to success in Provo’s food industry is monopolizing a specific market.
Brandon Bishop, owner of Greek ‘n Go food truck, located just west of Helaman Halls, attributes much of its success to being one-of-a-kind.
“It’s hard to have customers with so many of the same options,” Bishop said. “We’re the only Greek restaurant in Utah County.”
The Pico Norte team is dedicated to producing a product that Utah has never seen. They have taken multiple trips down to Mexico to buy machinery, observe the art and perfect the recipe.
The taco includes specialty pork meat that is marinated with red spices from the mountains of Monterrey and carne asada. It is served on a fresh, homemade flour tortilla with cheese, chopped onions, cilantro, some lime and salsa verde.
“These aren’t your mama’s tacos,” Felt boasted.
Even so, countless factors determine a restaurant’s success or failure in a college town’s unique food market.
A few years ago, former BYU student and entrepreneur Gideon John founded “Maui Bowl,” an acai bowl restaurant in Provo that was open for 15 months. He decided to close the doors when expected profit margins did not come.
“The demographics in the Provo area are predominately college students living far below the poverty line,” John observed. “Most students either have a part-time job or no job at all. Most kids are living off of a monthly budget they are given from their parents.”
John also felt his target demographics valued quantity over quality. In retrospect, John said he should have seen Nordstrom closing in Orem as a “red flag.”
“The people in this area clearly do not pay for quality or do not care for quality,” John said.
The Pico Norte team made strategic choices to build a successful, yet low-risk company. The Pico Norte entrepreneurs are debt-free and maintain low overhead costs because they are working from a food truck. In addition to dominating the late-night food market, they plan to be in neighborhoods, on campuses for lunch, in office locations and at every big event. Their approach is proactive.
“You’ve got to be bold about where you are going to post up,” Felt said. “Our strategy is to be simple, legit and unapologetic about it.”
The Provo food market has been kind to some and pushed others out in a matter of months. It is a risky business, but Felt and Gooch feel they have what it takes.