Some people wish to meet celebrities or Olympic athletes, but I would want to meet an owner of a renowned culinary shop. I had the chance to live out this dream this past Saturday morning during my regular Ferry Building Farmer’s Market stroll. By chance, I met Thomas Odermatt, a UC Berkeley alumnus, who has—quite literally— been roasting up a storm at his food truck, RoliRoti Gourmet Rotisserie.
Upon arriving at the Farmer’s Market, you can’t mistake Odermatt’s food truck. Enveloped in the fresh aromas of tender chicken and rosemary potato cubes, the truck is flanked by a queue of customers that wraps around the corner of the Ferry Building. Once you see the line and get a glimpse of the crispy herbed pork sliced into Porchetta sandwiches, you know you’re in the right place.
A Class Project that Became Reality
Like all successful companies, RoliRoti had to start somewhere. For Odermatt, it started with a business plan project from an entrepreneurship class at Haas in 2001. It was with the encouragement of his professor that he really ventured off with the idea.
While an idea can form overnight, the actual research and behind-the-scenes effort take much longer to execute. Growing up with a family in the retail meat industry, Odermatt was inspired to center his business around savory rotisserie. Street food at the time was inexpensive and regulations were not strictly enforced. Taking advantage of this mostly unregulated sector, Odermatt chose to specialize in roasted chicken- an inexpensive meat that suits most people’s stomachs.
Creating a successful business plan often comes from a good idea. But ultimately, it must bring disruption into the industry. In 2012, no one had thought about getting a gourmet meal from a food truck.
Success Comes From Failure
When you take a bite into the juicy chicken and flavorful pork loin, your taste buds can rest assured the food is developed from a family recipe passed down for generations. However, it was not always this way.
Early fans of RoliRoti might remember how the food truck had once served a French dish called Ratatouille. This was due to the wildly popular Disney movie at that time, and so Odermatt thought he could use this for leverage in the market and offer his own version of it. However, he removed it shortly from the menu because of poor sales compared to its rotisserie chicken counterpart. From this experience, Odermatt learned a valuable lesson: do not change the business model to follow perceived popularity from the media.
Now the menu features only a handful of items. This is part of Odermatt’s philosophy: “instead of having many options that are all average, take one of them and make it your signature”. His philosophy has paid off visibly, as he reports that on any given day, he sells over 800 porchetta sandwiches and roasts over 500 whole chickens.
The famous Porchetta sandwich and chicken
Staying at the Forefront of Food Truck Industry & Beyond
RoliRoti’s success is partly due to its promise in its unchanged recipe from the start. It is almost “a little bit old fashioned,” as Odermatt puts it—retaining the same flavor that guarantees the same high quality dining experience every time.
Over the course of a few years, the food truck has grown into becoming a main chicken supplier in the Bay Area. It now provides the meat for Whole Cart, a mobile food service/catering company that brings groups of food trucks to corporate events; a concept similar to Off the Grid because both entities share the same owner.
Now in 2016, Odermatt has big plans ahead for the industry and his company. For the past 1.5 years, Odermatt has been preparing to bring Sous Vide cooking method, the ability to cook in a vacuum sealed bag of a temperature controlled water bath, to the production facility of mobile culinary operations. Sous Vide cooking is already well-known in restaurants for producing meat with an even doneness without dry edges or rare centers. Odermatt wants to introduce it into the business model of commercial driven operations.
Even though RoliRoti has expanded to more businesses beyond the food truck scene, Odermatt is still committed to his customers. You’ll occasionally spot him at the market preparing the Porchetta sandwiches because he believes in personally receiving customer feedback and quickly adapting to the change. As he puts it, “no matter how big we are, the key is always the customer.” So next time you stand in line waiting for your order, don’t forget to greet the staff. Did I mention that’s how I got to chat with Thomas about this food truck?