It is no secret that I am passionate about women's empowerment and women in leadership positions. As women's history month ended in March, a new series emerged here at The Honest Mama blog. Each week throughout April and May, Female Feature Fridays will spotlight local female entrepreneurs in Champaign-Urbana and surrounding communities.
Meet Jessica Smith, a food truck owner specializing in signature fresh-smashed burgers.
Name: Jessica Smith
Business Name: Smith Burger Co.
Tell us about yourself!
Mom of 2 plus an English Bulldog and married to my childhood sweetheart. Full blown townie born and raised in Urbana, now working for the University of Illinois AND owning and operating a small business in our community. I shop too much, love working out and also love to eat, spend all my free time with my family, have a loyal heart and an incredibly silly personality, and I'm now pouring myself into learning all things entrepreneurship.
In the midst of a pandemic when many businesses were closing their doors, you managed to open a successful new business within the food service industry! What was your thought process like when opening during such a challenging time?
The pandemic didn't really affect our decision to purchase our food trailer. My husband and I had been in search of a food truck/trailer for some time so when Big Green became available, we jumped at the opportunity to buy without giving the pandemic much thought. We were hopeful the challenges most other local businesses were facing would be slightly different for us with our mobile business structure. We pretty much jumped head first putting all faith into our decision to follow our dream.
Did you have experience in the food service industry prior to launching your business?
I held a few serving positions through my late teens and early twenties, but it's my husband/business partner who has the experience we needed to confidently start our business. He has been in the hospitality industry for 18 years with several of those in the kitchen so he's learned many skills necessary to operate a restaurant. Kitchen equipment, inventory, cooking methods, menu pricing, health inspections; he brought all that knowledge to our food truck.
What made you decide to go the food truck route versus opening a traditional brick and mortar restaurant?
A food truck has been a dream simply because it's mobile; you can take your food and customer service anywhere you wish, when you wish. We can attend festivals and cater weddings, we can park at breweries and bring customers to local businesses. We can change our scenery and clientele as we choose, or consistently serve the same location.
What makes your business unique?
The number of mobile food vendors in our community has increased over the years, many with similar cuisine. We wanted to create a menu completely different from anything else in our area. Burgers are an American cuisine staple, but we wanted to take it a step further and offer signature smash burgers - our favorite go-to on Sunday afternoons at home. As of now, we're the only food truck to specialize in fresh-smashed gourmet burgers which have quickly become a local hit!
What are the biggest challenges you face within your industry?
A challenge we will always face will be keeping our menu affordable and competitive yet profitable and sustainable.
How did you come up with your menu? Does it always stay the same, or do you offer specials or featured items?
Most of our menu items were developed by my husband with the addition of a few of my favorites we'd often cook up at home. We have a set menu with an available special every so often. These specials are items that may make the full menu eventually but we're having fun switching them up time to time. Most recently, we collaborated with Ye Olde Donut Shoppe in Champaign to offer the Glazed and Confused burger; a smashed bacon cheeseburger served on a seared glazed donut! We received so much positive feedback about this that we're making plans to offer it again very soon!
What is the most popular item on your menu?
Our number one seller is our All American, double beef with crispy bacon and melty American cheese served on a toasted brioche bun. A close second would be our City Slicker which became a huge hit after being featured in ciLiving. We also have Wisconsin white cheddar cheese curds competing with our sweet and savory sweet potato tots for most popular side.
What is a less popular item/well-kept secret on your menu that people should definitely be ordering?
The Mama Mia, a personal favorite! Double beef, pepperoni, provolone cheese and marinara served on a toasted brioche bun - many refer to it as a pizza burger. It's fantastic!!
How do you balance “mom life” with running a business?
I'm still very much trying to find balance between operating a successful food truck business and being a mom. We have 2 daughters, Leah (13) and Ella (5). During the week I reply to event requests, manage the schedule, and keep the books in between remote learning, dance practice, and swim lessons. Did I mention I also have another full time job I'm still performing from home everyday?! Weekends I'm on the truck but I try to take a Saturday or Sunday here and there to spend quality time with them.
You can find Smith Burger Co. online at smithburgerco.com and on Instagram @smithburgerco.