As the general economy headed for a downturn in 2008, the food truck industry began a remarkable rise. As of 2015, annual food truck revenue hit $1.2 billion with a 12.4% increase over five years. With markets near saturation in large metropolitan areas like Denver and Silicon Valley, the Pine Ridge Reservation is beginning to see food trucks rolling into town. The latest is Tatanka Trail, serving specialty sandwiches and breakfast in front of Lakota Dollar.
Just in their third week of operation, owner Trina Janis says business is off to a good start. “We have more people come every day, and we have a lot of return customers.”
“Food trucks have a lean start-up model and require much less capital than a brick and mortar restaurant. That makes it a more realistic business idea for entrepreneurs around here,” says Tony Taylor who is a loan officer at Lakota Funds, a non-profit organization that provided the business loan for Tatanka Trail.
Janis says her dream is to own a restaurant with a drive-through some day, but it just wasn’t financially feasible right now. After looking into alternatives, she settled on the idea of a food truck. She developed her menu based on 14 years of experience in the food industry and other gaps she identified. She explains, “We offer things that we wished were on the Rez but couldn’t get.”
The most popular item is “The Geo,” shaved prime rib, bacon, sautéed mushrooms and onions, covered in secret cheese sauce and served on a hoagie. It’s named after Janis’ son who invented the specialty sandwich. The business has three full-time employees who roast the prime rib every day in the full kitchen housed on the truck.
Taylor adds, “Because food trucks offer unique food options for a less expensive price, we see Tatanka Trail meeting the needs of our local residents.”
Janis anticipates her most profitable time will be this summer, when she takes Tatanka Trail on the powwow trail across South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Nebraska. Her first big event will be the Veterans Powwow on June 8th-11th in Pine Ridge. During that time, she will increase her staff to six full-time employees.
Until then, Janis is excited to be serving smiles locally. She says, “Cooking is a passion for me. I like creating food that makes people happy.”