Chatting With the Treats Truck's Kim Ima: Food TV, Cops Who Like Cookies, and Three-Card Monte
Copyright the Treats Truck Kim Ima and a caramel cream sandwich payload.
When she first hit the road in the Treats Truck in 2007, Kim Ima was one of the very first of the new wave of so-called fancy food trucks. Selling homey, retro desserts under the motto of "Not too fancy, always delicious," Ima was at first seen as a novelty, a cheerful anomaly on the streets of Midtown. The zeitgeist, of course, soon caught up with her, and what was once seen as a novelty became a model of success for other would-be truckers to follow. Ima's sugar dots, caramel cream sandwich cookies, and cupcake cones have proven so successful that she's now planning to open a storefront on Court Street sometime in 2011; she also has a cookbook in the works. Before heading out of town for a much-needed holiday, Ima found some time to catch up with us about food TV tourists, dealing with the cops, and what she has in common with three-card monte players. Tune in tomorrow for the second half of our interview.
How's your summer been?
Pretty good. The weather is always challenging. Some of those days in July were hard to take, but business-wise, my customers, my regulars, most of them still come to the truck even when it's hot and humid. A lot of them come on a certain day -- it's part of their routine. So sales were good and then also the truck was on a few TV shows. What's interesting is that this summer I got a new group -- I have my regulars, and then this summer, because of the TV spots, I got a new category, which was people from other places who seek out the truck. Tourists. People would say, "I'm from Seattle, and we saw you on Kid in a Candy Store, so we wanted to see you." There were ways that the show phrased things about my treats, like "the ice cream cone that never melts" [Ima's cupcake cone], so people would come up to the truck and say it exactly the way it's said on the show. It's so funny.
What's been selling well this season?
All of the sandwich cookies -- we now have a lot we do every single day. Like the Chocolate Trucker, which is a sandwich cookie with buttercream in the middle. We had a naming contest [for the cookie] and now we have different kinds of Truckers -- Double Chocolate Mint, Chocolate, etc. I love it when people come up and casually ask for a Trucker. [Laughs.] Also, the peanut butter sandwich cookie, a lot of people like those because they're gluten-free. People more than ever say, "I hear you have gluten-free cookies." And we have been doing a lot of cupcake cones this summer -- the "never-melting ice cream cone" -- and of course standards like brownies.
In addition to Midtown, you have a few stops around town -- can you glean anything about the character of the neighborhood based upon what sells best there?
There are definitely neighborhoods that like certain things. Or sometimes not even the whole neighborhood but three or four customers. They really like something and I start bringing more of it and then other people start getting it, too. Or certain things will sell really well all of a sudden -- everyone wants lemon cookies or oatmeal cookies. I had one customer on 45th and Sixth who said, "I think you should put coconut in your chocolate cookies. When are you going to do it?" Finally, I said, "I've got your cookie. What's your name?" So now it's called the Coconut Mitch. I usually make that only for that neighborhood, but then other neighborhoods started requesting it. I think he's pretty proud -- he passed an email around his office to share the news.
You seem to have such a good rapport with your customers.
The customers have been fantastic. They're the best part of [the job], whether it's naming cookies or people who come a certain day of the week. But maybe that's the case not just with trucks but with small businesses in general.