Interview: Sinead Kennedy, Off The Grid (Part 1)

Posted in Interviews on January 13, 2017

It’s become a defining San Francisco experience: the Off The Grid food truck market is a must for local food lovers, San Francisco tourists, and everyone in between. The weekly gatherings showcase diverse food truck lineups, live music, and, of course, aspiring food entrepreneurs. As the OTG team gears up for their 2017 season, we talk to Sinead Kennedy, Off The Grid’s Director of Marketing, about the process of applying for a spot at the market’s flagship location: the Fort Mason Center Friday market (vendor applications are open now, and run through January 20th).

What’s the application process to be a vendor at Off The Grid like? Does it differ depending on the market you’re applying for? When applying to be an Off the Grid vendor, it’s important to consider both the technical requirements of the interview and application process, and how you can build a strong, meaningful partnership with Off the Grid.
Every vendor will go through some similar experiences, like completing an online application that asks for sample menus and social media stats, and attending a 45 minute tasting with about six Off the Grid employees to get into the shoes of your customers and to understand the experience they’re trying to create.
Vendors have the opportunity to really shine by telling their stories and showing their passion for their business throughout this process. Off the Grid wants to help tell the fascinating stories of their vendors at markets and online, and building these more meaningful partnerships with vendors is really important.
This application process and the importance of storytelling remains the same for all markets. However, at markets like Fort Mason Center, the hours are longer and the crowds are larger, making it important for vendors to prove that they have the experience, confidence and food quality necessary to succeed in a high volume setting.
What are you looking for in a candidate? What’s the selection process like on your end? We’re looking for authentic, passionate folks making exciting food that will continue to grow our family of vendors. Off the Grid values strong partnerships that allow for continuous growth and improvement for business owners, so we look for vendors that are excited to work with us in that capacity.
The selection process begins with the review of applications, followed by a tasting, and meet & greet. The tasting is important for many reasons: it allows Off the Grid to see exactly what the customer experience will be, it helps us get to know vendors on a more personal level, and most importantly, we taste the food and determine where these flavors and dishes will fit in best at markets and events. After this process, the cross-functional team at Off the Grid curates the mix and variety of vendors at each market and places vendors in spaces that set them up for success.
What’s the sign of a truly successful vendor? How do you recommend vendors attract customers amid so much competition? Vendors who have a commitment to clearly defined concepts and great customer service attract and tend to keep their customers. Successful vendors are consistently interested in incrementally increasing the quality their food and operations throughout the season. Their concepts are unique yet accessible. We find that food vendors with a visually appealing, clean design and easy to understand (readable) signage attract customers. Ultimately, vendors who love what they do and are passionate about the food business are the best positioned for success. We take time with vendors to help them improve and work on things such as signage, presentation, and marketing.
How has the lineup grown and changed since Off The Grid first started? As interests and trends change, we have evolved and so have our events. Food trucks and street food are no longer a novelty; they are an important part of the food community. The options have expanded to a wide variety that meets the needs and pleases the palates of a range of customers. We love seeing more and more passionate business owners bringing their innovative concepts to life and gaining loyal, lifelong customers.
Any major surprise hits or flops over the years? An interesting pattern we’ve seen is that food trends come in waves: Indian, Korean, Filipino, Poke. 3-5 new businesses all starting at the same time with a similar concept.
Another pleasant surprise is the amount of restaurants interested in vending whether it’s due to marketing to a different customer base, increasing offsite catering or thinking about buying a food truck we appreciate their interest and are expanding offerings to accommodate more of them. A lot of restaurants are seeing it as a low cost way to grow their staff without significant capital costs associated with a new location.