By Nina Polien Light | Photo by Doug Khrenovsky
While pregnant, Doeberling constantly craved food from that ubiquitous burrito-and-bowl chain but grew frustrated with the long lines, impatient customers, and harried workers.
“I’ve been in this business forever,” she recalls thinking. “I know I can make a better burrito and make people have fun. You don’t have to be miserable while waiting for something to eat.”
Doeberling, who formerly worked for the parent company of several well-known restaurant chains, saved her money. She did not have funding for a sit-down eatery, so she pooled her pennies to buy a food truck, which she rebuilt with the help of friends. Now-business partner Emily Moes designed the logo for Boca Loca Burrito Factory, a mobile kitchen that hit the streets in April 2014.
While serving fare that Doeberling calls, “Latin fusion with a Cleveland twist,” Boca Loca Burrito Factory travels to neighborhood festivals, weddings, and graduation parties. About 30 percent of the business is centered on corporate events. Regulars have come to crave the imaginatively named burritos, such as the Barbie Doll (pink from raspberry vinaigrette), Incredible Hulk (green from salsa verde), Big Pig (bacon and carnitas), and Supermodel (all veggies). Grub (her word) is designed to appeal to everyone, with options for vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free individuals, and meat lovers. Inspiration comes from the foods Doeberling grew to love while living in Texas, the fare Moes enjoyed while residing in Peru, and their Cleveland roots.
Boca Loca’s “street food with attitude” is served with a good dose of humor, which Doeberling insists contributes to the food truck’s success.
“Our work uniform on the front says, ‘Work Sucks,’ and on the back, ‘I’m going to Boca Loca,’” Doeberling says. “We do edgy things. Our goal is to make you laugh and make every experience memorable.”
Owning and operating a food truck is seasonal work, so Doeberling and Moes are expanding their venture with a brick-and-mortar version of Boca Loca. The women plan for the 40-seat quick-service restaurant, located near Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, to open in September. Doeberling—who works six to seven 12-hour days on the truck during the summer—believes the two parts of the business will complement each other. The food truck will be busiest when most students are on summer break, and hungry students will return to the area when the food truck business is waning for the season.
Boca Loca is successful now, but Doeberling admits there were surprises along the way. She did not anticipate the abuse the food truck would endure rolling over Cleveland’s potholes and maneuvering through construction. The mobile kitchen is extremely hot and on sweltering days can get downright oppressive. She also had to prove herself to the area’s food truck operators, who—except for two women owners and a few women who run trucks with significant others—are male.
“I get called a tough cookie once a week,” she says. “It’s difficult to get respect, show you take it seriously, and that you’ve come to play. I’ve spent a lot of time proving myself, but I think it’s making me a better businessperson. I knew every product, every number. I literally have my hand in everything.”
About a year after opening Boca Loca, Doeberling found herself missing the networking and professional development opportunities she enjoyed while working for the corporate restaurant group, so she sought mentorship and camaraderie locally. She first found it in Bad Girl Ventures, an organization that promotes female entrepreneurship through education, networking, and loan opportunities. Doeberling and Moes were accepted into their program, learned valuable skills and techniques from business professionals, and were among the Top 10 finalists in the group’s competition for a business loan.
She has also sought advice from the National Association of Women Business Owners—and, in fact, recently catered their quarterly meeting. She has met many “accidental mentors” along the way.
“They’re so interested in my business, and I’m so new and hungry to grow my business and stay competitive,” she says. “I’m getting involved with a lot of female mentors and learning from them, but they’re also getting a fire lit by being around me, so it’s kind of a win-win.”
Another win has been Boca Loca’s presence on social media. When the food truck first hit the road, customers gave a thumbs-up to the food on Yelp and other review sites. They also posted shout-outs to Moes, who, at the time, was helping Doeberling serve. Reviewers said she was funny, entertaining, and added to the Boca Loca experience. Indeed, this is why Doeberling later asked Moes to become her business partner.
“It’s not fun some days,” Doeberling says. “It’s fun every day. I laugh every day.”
For more information: bocalocaburritofactory.com