Case Studies

One simple question inspired Marco's Pepper Grill Food Truck

Meet Marcus Flakes: Veteran, Entrepreneur, Restaurateur & Food Truck Owner.

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Marco's Food Grill x Otter

“I know what it’s like not to have Otter, and trust me – it is a hot mess. {Otter} is truly designed to make restaurant life easier. I’ve signed up for new delivery platforms and created my own online-ordering app. Otter makes it simple, so why not? Today, I have multiple revenue streams that are all virtual, but still rooted in the concept of Marco’s Pepper Grill that I came up with in that Medford brick & mortar in 2013.”

Meet Marcus Flakes: Veteran, Entrepreneur, Restaurateur & Food Truck Owner

If you had a restaurant of your own, what would it be called? Why? What would you serve?”

Questions like these are fun to think about, but for Marcus Flakes, these three questions became the foundation on which he would build his life, purpose, and business.

Marcus Flakes knows all too well that the path to success is not linear. Always a food-lover, Marcus knew he wanted to open a restaurant of his own. But he was prepared to work for it and found a way to bring the culinary world into every step of his journey towards his ultimate goal.

While studying culinary arts at the Art Institute of Sacramento, Marcus worked in the military as a food program manager. His responsibilities weren’t necessarily fulfilling his passion for cooking, but conducting inspections, coordinating logistics, and managing inventory for the army food facilities kept him connected to the world of food, which was enough for him for a while.

Creating the restaurant concept

When Marcus began approaching graduation, he decided it was time to act upon his dream of opening a restaurant. The first question – where? A 5-hour drive from Sacramento, Marcus set out for Medford, OR, to open his restaurant in a small, communal town.

The second question — what will it be called?

"Marco’s Pepper Grill. Ever since I was asked what I’d call a restaurant of my own in culinary school, I knew this would be the name of my restaurant concept. ‘Marco’ because it was my childhood nickname, and ‘pepper’ because peppers are a worldly ingredient used in cuisines around the globe. I can cook anything as long as I have my talent, a grill, and some peppers.”

When the first location of Marco’s Pepper Grill opened in Medford, Oregon, in July 2012, it did great. Marcus won the title of Best New Restaurant of Southern Oregon and was featured in food magazines. A local television station featured Marcus and his restaurant on 5 segments of a show called “West Coast Flavors.” This combination of accolades, press and exposure helped Marco’s Pepper Grill grow quickly. “It was a dream come true.”

The Medford location of Marco’s Pepper Grill stayed open for 2.5 years when an epidemic of forest fires hit Southern Oregon. Tourism halted, and many local businesses were forced to shutter.

“It was a whole summer with no customers. Put simply; I didn't have the means to stay open with no revenue. So I decided to do what I had to do: close my restaurant, move (home) to Houston, and get back into the military. I had hoped to reopen immediately with support from investors and some savings, but investment fell through. It was frustrating, but I knew it was just a detour. I always knew that I would open my restaurant again one day; I just had to wait.”

Re-opening during the pandemic

Marcus would end up waiting for over 5 years before he started planning his reopening. And when that time came along, he made sure to make the smartest decisions possible.

“I started looking at the price of a brick & mortar restaurant in Houston. Then I compared that cost to the cost of a food truck – which made a lot more sense financially. I just wanted to serve my food again; it didn't matter how I had to do it.”

So Marcus trusted his instinct, and with the help of his father, he decided to invest in a food truck. The second iteration of Marco’s Pepper Grill was up and running by February 2020. The next month the pandemic hit.

“It was bittersweet. Sweet in the sense of,  ‘thank god I didn't get a brick & mortar,’ bitter because here I am running across another issue that’s out of my control.”

With resilience, grit, and his business savvy, Marcus decided to shape-shift the form of Marco’s Pepper Grill (again) and open a ghost kitchen.

“In the pandemic, ‘dining out’ was happening digitally. So I started looking for ways to make Marco’s Pepper Grill online & accessible.”

Marcus’ ghost kitchen lasted for about three months when he realized that growth within that environment was somewhat limited due to the amount of investment required for rent, delivery commissions, and more.

“It was just too much. So I decided to take the concept of online ordering and bring it to my food truck.”

Food truck comes full circle

Marcus and his dad sat down to come up with a game plan.

“My dad was like, ‘son, I have an idea. Why don’t you park the food truck on my property?’ I immediately came up with the reasons that idea wasn’t going to work: it’s a non-mobile food truck parked in the same place every day. How would customers find it?”

Marcus’ father convinced him that, based on the property’s location, it would work. After some landscaping, Marcus reopened his food truck. But this time, he brought along some newfound innovations he discovered within the ghost kitchen environment: 3rd party delivery apps, direct-to-consumer online ordering platform Flipdish, and Otter.

“It was a puzzle we had to figure out, but eventually it became clear to me – ‘you know what? I’ll park here and claim this as my business address on Google so people can walk up if they’d like. Then I’ll get Otter to send me a tablet and make this my delivery outpost that couriers can pick up food from and drop it off to hungry customers.”

This realization was a beautiful full-circle moment for Marcus and his father, because that property was the same property his grandfather built a store on long ago.

Marco’s Pepper Grill x Otter’s online ordering management solutions

“Otter made starting this iteration of Marco’s Pepper Grill easy. I know what it’s like not to have Otter, and trust me – it is a hot mess. You have to go to your phone, three tablets, constant notifications… you can’t run your business like that.”

Alongside Otter, Marcus and Marco’s Pepper Grill are able to consolidate all their delivery platforms into a single tablet with a recognizable sound to alert my team when a new order comes in.

“It’s truly designed to make restaurant life easier. I’ve even signed up for new delivery platforms and recently created my own online-ordering app. Otter makes it simple, so why not? Today, I have multiple revenue streams that are all virtual, but still rooted in the concept of Marco’s Pepper Grill that I came up with in that Medford brick & mortar in 2013.”

Forever an entrepreneur, Marcus even opened a side-hustle business helping other food truck owners navigate online-ordering.

“I take pride in advising other food truck owners in their business decisions. A lot of what I do is help them see the big picture: investing in software like Otter will end up opening a new, lucrative revenue stream that you wouldn’t have otherwise.”

What’s next for Marco’s Pepper Grill?

“I’ve recently raised the capital to expand into a brick & mortar – what I dreamed this whole thing would be in the first place. It’s truly an expansion, not a replacement. The food truck will still exist as Marco’s Pepper Grill Express: mainly for delivery purposes and some quick walk-ups. And the brick & mortar will be everything people love about the food truck x2. I’m going to differentiate the brick & mortar from the food truck in many ways. One thing I plan to offer exclusively at the brick & mortar restaurant is ‘signature dishes,’ dishes designed to be enjoyed exclusively as part of the dine-in experience alongside a glass of wine or pint of beer.”

You can support Marcus and Marco’s Pepper Grill by ordering from their food truck at marcospeppergrill.com or visiting 4313 Stonewall St, Houston, TX 77020.

Marcus’ recommendation? “You can’t really go wrong with anything on our menu. We’re well known for our cajun, creole, southwestern, and Caribbean cuisines. Be sure to try our shrimp, chicken, and sausage jambalaya or étouffée.”

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