Founder Friday: Pete Cimino, Lloyd

Today, no matter where you live in Western New York, there’s almost always a handful of food trucks at the ready to serve you during your lunch hour or provide a quick and easy dinner option.

But 7 years ago, when Lloyd hit the streets of Buffalo, they were in it alone. Cities like NYC and Los Angeles were booming with food trucks, but things were just getting off the ground here. As crowds began lining up down the street, it became pretty evident to the Lloyd crew and other aspiring food truck owners that the craze had officially hit the Queen City.

Now, we have weekly events dedicated to the city’s food trucks, serving everything from breakfast to grilled cheese, pierogis, and poutine.

Despite the influx of new trucks hitting the streets, Lloyd has found ways to continually differentiate itself – beyond simply being the first food truck in Buffalo. Lloyd isn’t just the name of a business, it’s a character that people can relate to. And this character has been embodied across their social media platforms and in every means of communication with customers.

They got the people of Buffalo asking, “Where’s Lloyd?” Meet Pete Cimino, the founder of Lloyd Taco Trucks, Lloyd Taco Factory, and their newest endeavor, Churn Soft Serve.

How did your startup, well, start up?

Before starting Lloyd, I was a teacher and had dabbled in different businesses before I decided to take the plunge into the food truck business. My first thought was to do burgers, focus on the late-night crowd. Then I went to L.A. and saw how successful the taco truck business was out there, and it inspired me to pursue that in Buffalo.

I had to talk to my now-business partner, Chris, 3 or 4 different times before he was convinced to quit his job as a Wegmans Bakery Manager and start Lloyd with me.

Once he was on board, we bought OG (our first truck) from a Craigslist ad we saw. The truck was in Corpus Christi, Texas, so we had it shipped up here sight unseen. That was in 2010, and we’ve been growing ever since.

What do you do? Your startup?

In the beginning, I wore pretty much every hat possible. I swept, I cooked, I cleaned the truck, I ran to the bank, I formed relationships, and I drove the truck (I loved that). Once Chris came on full time, which was about a year in, I settled into taking orders at the window. After taking orders for a while, I ended up becoming the “face” of Lloyd.

As we grew, my responsibilities changed and my focus is now on all things sales and marketing. I oversee catering, which includes truck events and booking daily locations. So ultimately my focus is on the customers, shaping the experience we provide in all the ways they interact with Lloyd. I try to stay away from the title CEO; I like CVO (Chief Visionary Officer) much better.

We have 4 food trucks out everyday, the Taco Factory on Hertel Avenue, Churn (which just opened next door to the Taco Factory), and we’re expecting to open another Taco Factory on Main Street in Williamsville next month.

When was the ‘aha’ moment for your startup when you realized this could actually work?

There’s a few aha moments I had along the way. The first was in that first week being on the truck – the truck was a nightmare from how busy it was that day. Once we caught our breath, my roommate at the time was like, “I don’t think you realize what’s going on here.” Seeing a line build at the truck made me realize that the original idea had legs, serious legs.

In Year 2, we did a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the second truck, and we had a ton of support from the community and local businesses. It gave me a further push to see that there’s a lot more to be done here.

Before we opened the Taco Factory, we were on the show Restaurant Startup and met with people in L.A. who were well-versed in the taco business. Having them eat our food and pay such high compliments made us realize that we could move forward with the restaurant concept. When we actually opened the Taco Factory, we didn’t even tell people we were planning to open that day – and we still had a line out the door.

What tools can you not live without and why?

I used to rely on memory alone, but that only worked for so long. I know it’s archaic, but I use the Notes app on my iPhone to jot down ideas and revisit them at a later date.

What was some important advice you received when starting up and who told it to you?

Because the truck wasn’t my first rodeo, I had experienced my share of bumps and bruises as an entrepreneur. I read the book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” by Al Ries, and his quote “You either have to be the first or be the best at it” really stuck with me. There was a chance to break into the market and be the first food truck in Buffalo, and I just had to take that chance.

I also heard a talk from John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods, and he spoke about the importance of authenticity. Me “becoming Lloyd” and “designing Lloyd” allowed me to express myself and be comfortable with who I am.

What is the best part/worst part of your day as a founder?

Best part: As cliché as it sounds, it’s the people. Getting to see our team do their thing and form relationships is very rewarding. The simplicity of customers eating the food, smiling, and giving feedback means so much.

Worst part: Chris and I are brothers from a different mother. We’ve been working together so long and we’re always trying to be on the same page, but sometimes we butt heads. We bring different things to the table, and that helps us put the best product out there for our customers. It’s just a part of growth.

Goals for the next year? Three years?

In the next year, we hope the Williamsville Taco Factory will be a smashing success. We always knew we wanted to be on Main Street in Williamsville, so this is a huge test for us.

We also just opened Churn, the soft serve sister brand to Lloyd, and I think there’s tons of potential from a scaling perspective. It’s a unique product that we’re offering, so we could potentially expand Churn in the coming years.

After this next year, we’ll have a huge decision to make. We can choose to take Lloyd from a local to hyper-local level (sourcing absolutely everything locally) or we can choose to go to another city and start testing.

Why Buffalo?

I was born here and never wanted to leave. Many of my other friends left, but I’m so glad I stuck it out.

We got really lucky because we started in 2010 when things started to change around here. The region is making so much progress, and to see the perception of Buffalo change and have people start believing again is exciting. It’s kind of a Buffalo 2.0, if you will.

How do you do it? What drives you?

I’m super competitive, I always want to win – and business is no different. The same satisfaction that I used to get from playing sports, I get through this.

Lloyd isn’t going anywhere, that’s for sure. I would never want to sell something I wouldn’t want to eat myself, so we stand behind our products and always look for ways to improve.

For our team, it’s about the “why.” Why do we do what we do? People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it, and I think about that constantly.