Matt Basile: if you’re part of the food scene in Toronto, you know the name. Food rebel, ad man, and entrepreneur, Matt Basile quit his job in advertising to follow his dream: make great food on his own terms.
Years later, Basile seems to be everywhere. His food truck, Priscilla, bounces around Toronto, while his brick and mortar restaurant, Lisa Marie, has become a Queen West staple. His catering business has only picked up steam over the years, and his YouTube channel has garnered thousands of views from foodies the world over.
Basile’s food ventures make up his food brand, Fidel Gastro's, which he defines as “Toronto’s first street food experience”. We caught up with Matt to talk about his decision to quit his job in advertising to start a food truck, and how he scaled the business to become what it is today.
So first thing: what made you leave a cushy job in advertising to start a food truck?
Ha! Well, I’m an early Millennial. We always want to find a career path that really resonates with us. It’s a part of our DNA.
But seriously, I started Fidel Gastro's because I wanted to get into food, and I wanted to do it my way. I didn’t want to work as a line cook in someone else’s kitchen – I wanted to be an entrepreneur in the food industry, and starting with a food truck was my way in.
But also – my experience in advertising really helped with establishing a brand. So I used a lot of transferable skills there.
What were some of the biggest challenges with setting up Priscilla, your food truck?
Well, first, I didn’t know what I was doing! I didn’t know anything about generators or fire suppression systems, and all the things you need to have knowledge of before opening up a food truck.
We had a lot of false starts – and then do-overs. There wasn’t a resource you could use to figure out if you were on the right path. I really had to learn as I went.
Well it seems you learned pretty quickly, seeing as Fidel Gastro's is now a food truck, catering business, and a brick and mortar. How did you scale up from food truck to Lisa Marie, your brick and mortar spot?
I had to realize I couldn’t do it all on my own. The first thing I had to do was pull myself out of the day to day, and really focus on a higher level of the business. The day-to-day is important, but if you get stuck in it, you won’t grow.
So the key to not getting stuck is to hire great people and rely on them. And define your staff roles clearly! That really helped me step out of the daily grind to focus on scaling the business to a brick and mortar.
What was the hardest part about going from food truck to a brick and mortar restaurant?
Oh wow, definitely the expense. A brick and mortar is so much more expensive. I wasn’t used to seeing bills come in at that size!
Also the hiring – when Fidel Gastro's was just a food truck, I could run it with my partner alone and then sometimes hire floaters for events. When I started Lisa Marie, I couldn’t be so bare bones with my team. I needed to build out my staff, which I wasn’t used to.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to people looking to scale from food truck to brick and mortar?
I’ve seen a lot of people get rid of their food truck when they open a brick and mortar restaurant. I think before you make that leap, you should instead think about how your food truck can still play a role in your company.
Your food truck allows your brand to be mobile – so think through how it can still be an extension of your business. You may be happy you didn’t give it up.
So after all this growth, how do you make sure Fidel Gastro’s stands out against the competition?
This may be my advertising experience talking, but it’s definitely our online presence. I make sure to curate great opportunities to present ourselves online, and we’re super active on Instagram. Our digital presence is an integrated part of the business – it’s not separate.
Last question – how are you everywhere?
Ha, am I everywhere? I don’t know. I feel like I used to be everywhere, but now I’ve actually gotten better at saying no to things. In the beginning, I said yes to everything – every interview, every event, every opportunity to promote the Fidel Gastro's brand. I needed to see what made sense for us.
Now that I know what works, I can be a lot more strategic. I can scale back on quantity and focus on the promotion I know works really well.
What’s your motto? Always be different.
What’s your favorite thing about your business? Creating new dishes!
What’s next for your business? Strengthening the brand … and maybe coming up with the next pad Thai fries.
Big thanks to Matt Basile for lending us a piece of his story. Matt, we’re so happy to have you as part of the TouchBistro family.
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