We Talk with Grant Di Mille and Samira Mahboubian of The Sweetery food truck
Since their European-inspired dessert truck opened in June 2009 as the means to a career change after 40+ combined years in the advertising and marketing industries for husband and wife team Grant Di Mille and Samira Mahboubian of The Sweetery food truck, it has turned into so much more. The iconic food truck that services busy streets of corporate Manhattan is just a small part of the event and branding business The Sweetery represents two years later. The homemade treats are delectably custom made for each event and working with clients like Bloomingdales and Ugg is just the beginning of what is in store for this unique business that truly had formed its niche along the busy streets of NYC.
You mentioned you never thought it would be so hard to have a food truck here. What are some of your major challenges?
Clearly the top three things would be weather; the police who we have a lot of respect for; and the other vendors. We don’t have as many issues now as we once did but certainly going to a new corner always presents challenges. New York is very territorial and they see a big truck come by and they don’t recognize that this truck attracts people. If someone has a cookie they might also have a hot dog that precedes that. We have had issues with jewelry vendors who ultimately told us that we were the best thing that ever happened to their street and that we attracted people.
What are your culinary backgrounds?
My culinary background exists to the extent that I eat every day, three meals a day, sometimes less, sometimes more. I have no culinary background. Samira’s culinary background is from her time spent around her mom who is a fantastic baker who worked as a consultant at the former Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel. But neither one of us have what you would call an official or real culinary background. Some of the recipes come from Samira’s mom and a variety of different places.
What’s your biggest selling item?
I would say our macarella, it’s a creation we came up with on a rainy day. It’s a coconut macaroon stuffed with Nutella. Whoopie pies are huge, some of the specialty items that we are making for our special events, our cake pops and our brownies are delicious.
I noticed your truck was named Chopper after your lab. For all those animal lovers, do you think you would consider doing treats for animals?
We have talked incessantly about that, we have always wanted to put a bowl of water outside and bake some dog biscuits, especially on the weekends absolutely, people come by with dogs. There are few things to me that I’m as passionate about as animals, especially dogs. I love dogs very much.
Who gets to drive the truck?
I put my time in driving the truck, it’s not fun. Neither of us drive any more. Our work days are generally 16 to 18 hour days running this business and booking events. The events are very sophisticated, they are not “hey what time are you going to bring the truck there?” They are very detail oriented. It’s about what the brand and client is trying to achieve. I can serve thousands of people on the street every day. What does the brand get out of it? Once they’ve had that cupcake that says Saks 5th Avenue, then there’s no brand recognition, there’s gotta be a tie in and way of associating that guest with Saks 5th Avenue or Ugg. We’re doing a lot more sophisticated things with social media now.
Since you are branching out so much into promotions, who would you consider to be your competitor?
That’s a great question. Whether it’s my ego speaking or the reality of it, nobody does a fraction of the events that we do. However in this world, especially where price is very important, anybody can be a competitor because people don’t appreciate value and see what we can bring to the table. There’s a lot of projects we turn down, maybe we’re silly about that, we have certain criteria and only want to work with brands that understand us. We do a bunch of weddings, a fair amount of bat mitzvahs, a lot of movie shoots, so those we understand that the budgets are very different but we really provide a lot more than a great truck and great food.
What is next for your company?
There’s no doubt with the city cracking down on trucks, I don’t know where we are going to go. My feeling is it’s going to remain challenging for a substantial period of time. I do want to have more of a street business and I’m certain we will eventually do carts. But for us the event and promotion business is key, we offer services that I don’t think any other business can. They can offer similar but not to the depth and breadth that we can. There are excellent trucks out there and some good entrepreneurs, and extensive culinary backgrounds but no one that can boast the corporate experience that we have. That’s why people partner with us, because they know it’s going to be a different experience than if they just hire a food truck. Some people, that’s all they want and that’s okay – some people want Starbucks and some people want something more exotic. And in a great city like this you run the gamut of A to Z.
Do you have any particular food blogs or food shows that you stay on top of?
Serious Eats, Midtown Lunch is really in tune with the trucks, I try to steal bits and pieces of things but I wish I had more time. I work more now for less but it’s a classic business story of building a brand and business and expecting that it will one day prosper like it should with hard work and good quality. The events that we do are huge but what I can make in one event, it would take me a month to make on this truck. And that’s not even considering big events. If it was just this truck we would have been out of this business a long time ago. We do everything for our clients including wrapping this truck, hiring a rabbi, getting snow machines.
What was your favorite event that you did?
The Visa major league soccer event was fun, a great brand, a great event. One of our favorite clients is Food Network, we have done 6 events with them, 6 different trucks. Great client, to a certain extent they put us on the map. That was the first truck that we wrapped so that was very important for us. I love my clients, they are my lifeblood. I never say no to my clients unless that is the only possible answer because somebody else will say yes. I wasn’t brought up to say no.
Samira, what’s your favorite item that you sell?
I have two favorites. One is the chocolate flourless walnut cookie, it has a great texture. I still like the pumpkin whoopie pie! I also love our coffee – it’s out of this world. We use a small roaster out of Tarrytown, New York called Coffee Labs Roaster and he’s great, he’s really amazing. The coffee is really expensive but people love our coffee.
A lot of your products are local and organic?
Not organic, but all natural. The only thing that isn’t natural is the Nutella.
For more information on The Sweetery including location times and more visit them at http://sweeterynyc.com.