How Auckland's favourite food truck sold its story before it had even started
If you live in Auckland it’s highly likely you’ve seen the infamous Lucky Taco truck rolling through the streets at some stage. Helmed by Sarah and Otis Frizzell, this badass little truck has been pumping out delicious food for a hungry and fiercely loyal community for a good few years now.
It all started with their honeymoon in LA. Both avid food lovers, Sarah and Otis were in their element amongst the food truck culture of Los Angeles, and found themselves tasting some of the best tacos they had ever tried right out of the back of some of those trucks. There wasn’t really a food truck scene in little old NZ yet, kiwi’s were still either kicking back with fush and chups or going full steam restaurant dining, and straight away the newlyweds saw a gap in the market that got them thinking.
It was, from the beginning, Sarah’s baby. At the time, she was working in advertising and feeling fairly dissatisfied...she was looking for some soul food and taco’s felt good. They both loved eating them, Sarah was great with food and both had art and design chops. Being the doting and supportive husband he is, when Sarah broached the idea, Otis’ response was ‘let’s do it’.
The first step? Mexico, obviously. The couple took off to the birthplace of the taco, doing cooking courses and then touring the country eating all the tacos they could find. They tried hot sauces, chipotles, made salsas, played with flavours and ingredients, and generally had a really mean time.
Right off the bat they figured that to make a food truck work they were going to need a funky ass brand, good food wasn’t enough on its own. When they got home from Mexico, they began to play around. They both loved old school tattoo branding and Day of the Dead inspired themes - and the end result was the loved Lucky Taco skull. Too cheery to be macabre, too bright to be scary, too cool to be ‘too cool’. The name itself just rolled off the tongue. The Lucky Taco. Today, there’s a dice popper in the truck, and if you pop double sixes you win the free lucky taco. It’s actually genius.
They started building a following right from day one, bringing their audience along on The Lucky Taco journey. This was a deliberate move, and it paid off. Before The Lucky Taco even existed, they had sold over 100 T-shirts of the skull logo. They started a facebook page, began telling everyone (unashamadly) that they were going to make the best tacos anyone had ever tasted, and documenting online the process of first buying, then stripping, then building out their beautiful truck. By the time they actually launched in the truck, they already had a decent sized, amping community and a few successful The Lucky Taco popups under their belt.
Securing a regular weekend space outside Flying Fish Studio on Ponsonby Road was a massive win. It’s really hard to get roadside trading consent in Auckland with the countless council hoops to jump through, so landing a spot on private property with space to set up outdoor furniture was a killer move on Sarah and Otis’ part.
People can bring the kids and the dog, and there’s always ALWAYS good music playing with the truck itself pumping damn fine beats from the likes of DJ’s Cian, Bobby Brazuka and Slave.
Most food trucks rely heavily on market days where they can’t control the vibe, and where a day of heavy rain means going home with full fridges of food, empty pockets and broken hearts. Finding a way to avoid this reliance was a real focus for Sarah and Otis.
The Lucky Taco truck rolls primarily on private events these days. Weddings, 21st’s, corporate bookings...all reliable and solid income. They are no longer at Flying Fish every weekend, which makes the times they are extra special, almost like an event, and people flock out to see them and feast on some taco goodness (for the record, they are the best tacos most people have ever tasted).
The Lucky Taco awards list is crazy. They have been recognised by Metro, Expedia, The Lewisham Foundation and the NZ Food Awards just to name a bare few, and recently their taco kits have been hitting finalist status in the food production categories to boot.
The taco kits haven’t all been smooth sailing though. A few years back Sarah and Otis spent a year doing R&D with a large food production company, with the aim of taking The Lucky Taco into mainstream supermarkets in a taco kit form. They experimented with flavours and presentation, participated in a bunch of market validation research, and in the final meeting they had with the company there were champagne bottles popping. A month later, the company told them they had decided not to go ahead with The Lucky Taco kits. A couple of months after that, the same company launched ‘One Night in Mexico’ taco kits. Same flavours, same ingredients, different name (and needless to say...nowhere near as cool). While pragmatic about the blow (“You can’t really trademark chipotle”) it was a really gutting experience for them.
Their second attempt launching the taco kits was also not without its challenges. This time, they had a financial backer who managed to convince them that tacos alone weren’t enough to take on the food production industry. They started doing burgers, dumplings...a bunch of other foods that they didn’t feel the same heart for, and The Lucky Taco brand was being diluted. So they made a brave call and pulled the pin. They took some time to lick their wounds, get back into the truck regularly, and finally, to start the whole process of the kits again. Back to tacos, back to the heart of the brand, and back to what they really loved making. This time, they did it on their own, their way.
These days, The Lucky Taco is in a rebirth phase. The kits are now available online on their website (free delivery in Auckland whoop!) and in Farro Fresh, and the focus on the kits as the primary future of The Lucky Taco is ramping up. It’s a solid business plan. Get them addicted to the incredible taco’s through the truck, then channel the demand to the form of supply that lends itself to the most growth - the taco kits. Well played The Lucky Taco, well played. We salute you.