INCPAS Scholar and his business partners establish first ever Terre Haute-based food truck business
It’s 11:30 p.m. on a warm Friday night in downtown Terre Haute. Hungry, college students line up by the dozens, each waiting to get their first mouth-watering bite of Twisted Fry’s increasingly-notorious selection of unique french fry creations. Little do these folks know, this pint-sized food truck is saving them from more than just an empty stomach. It’s preventing them from getting in their cars and taking the late-night snack quest into their own, (potentially) intoxicated hands.
This is the mission of Twisted Fry, Terre Haute’s first-ever food truck business, co-founded by ISU graduates Devyn Mikell (and INCPAS Scholars program graduate), DeSean Prentice, and Jess Harris. Their mission for Twisted Fry is to “prevent drinking and driving by providing late night eaters with delicious food at the perfect place and time.”
Twisted Fry was inspired by two key observations: an immediate need for late night food options and the lack of a food truck service in Terre Haute. While Mikell and his partners knew that a food truck on its own would be fine, they believed it needed to stand for something. After conducting extensive research on the drinking and driving habits of Terre Haute students, Mikell and his team found that 45 percent of respondents admitted they’d driven to get food after a night out drinking. With this key insight, they had both an idea, and a mission. However, nothing could have prepared them for the next step in his plan: dealing with the law.
“The Indiana CPA Society gave me so much exposure to a world that I was honestly unaware of. I saw some of the coolest things about accounting. I see so much value in accounting and I’ve made connections through the Scholars program that will last for the rest of my career.”
The inception of the Twisted Fry food truck was now faced with its first fundamental roadblock: it was not legal to operate food trucks on Terre Haute city streets. Thus began a three month campaign of lobbying and meeting with officials to move the case forward, in the hope of changing the law. Quietly brewing in the midst of the campaign was the development of a business plan, securing of funds, and the sourcing of a trailer to operate. Finally, in July 2016, their wish was granted. The law was changed, and now food trucks were free to roam the streets of Terre Haute. However, it would take another two months and securing a little under $50,000 before they would make their first sale on a city street.
According to Mikell, the challenges of being a student entrepreneur were twofold.
“The obvious answer is time,” he said. “Businesses will take your time when you really don’t want to give it. The not so obvious answer is decision making. There have been so many times where a ‘no’ was the right answer but my desire was to say ‘yes.’”
The temptation to give up the business and go back to normal student life was constant as well.
“Being a student entrepreneur puts you right in the hot seat of all these stressful decisions because everyone expects you to do the ‘safe’ thing, and they’ll praise you for it,” he said. “Safe often sounds like the right path. The challenge is fighting through that fear, doubt, and anxiety and just jumping off the cliff.”
Mikell believes that while it is sometimes scary to take such a big risk, the payoff is more than worth it.
“I’ve learned more in almost a year than I’ve ever learned anywhere else, just by taking a calculated leap of faith,” he shared.
Mikell is a graduate of the Society’s INCPAS Scholars program where he learned about the CPA profession and its impact on business.
“The Indiana CPA Society gave me so much exposure to a world that I was honestly unaware of,” he said. “I saw some of the coolest things about accounting. I see so much value in accounting and I’ve made connections through the Scholars program that will last for the rest of my career.”
Mikell credits his and his business partner’s accounting backgrounds with much of Twisted Fry’s success.
“I could spend hours telling you all how valuable my partner DeSean Prentice, Director of Finance & Legal, is for our business,” Mikell said. “If numbers are king then he is their conqueror for Twisted Fry. I honestly don’t think we’d be near as far if we weren’t obsessed with the numbers as an organization.”
“While they may not be innovations on a massive scale like other big brands, we feel like we’re creating a culture of innovation for our business.”
Analyzing the numbers has allowed them to see where they were spending far too much or maybe not enough. The power to project where Twisted Fry has been heading as a business has been invaluable to them.
“Ninety to ninety-five percent of restaurants fail within their first year,” said Mikell. “I believe this is because they don’t watch their numbers. The accounting knowledge that we apply to the business is what I believe will ultimately lead to our continuous success.”
Twisted Fry’s success has come in phases, notes Mikell. Phase one was simply getting off the ground and surviving the first full year, a milestone nearing completion. Phase two will entail continuing to operate in Terre Haute and expand to a new location.
“When we accomplish this task I will be extremely excited, but much work is to be done until then. However, it’s hard for me to deny that Twisted Fry is a successful venture,” says Mikell.
While the restaurant industry is full of risk, Mikell is still a firm believer that it’s full of rewarding experiences.
“It’s pretty special and I love it,” he says. “I think we have a pretty awesome concept that people will come to know and love as time goes by. We want to be closely connected to college campuses and continue to stand for something as growing business owners. Twisted Fry is always looking for new ways to innovate. We call ourselves the six sigma owners because we are always trying to improve a process within our business,” he jokes. “We’re innovative in that way. While they may not be innovations on a massive scale like other big brands, we feel like we’re creating a culture of innovation for our business.”
Ultimately, Mikell wants Twisted Fry to innovate for the customer. By creating these habits within the culture of Twisted Fry, he believes the company is being set up to go pretty far. All in all, the Twisted Fry food truck has been able to pave its own road to success, and shows no signs of slowing down.