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Since its inception, Mess Hall Canteen has been a competitor. The business was founded when Don McPeck and his son, Jake, entered Food Network’s “Food Truck Face-off”, a reality show where teams cook and compete to win a one-year lease on a custom food truck. The winning concept was rooted in Don’s U.S. Army background and Jake’s rich culinary experience.
Their military-themed, gourmet munchies—manifesting in crowd-pleasing, edgy creations like “Drunken Sailor Tots, “Blackberry-Lemon Glazed Ribs”, and “Touch of Death Noodles” – won them that food truck lease. Eventually, the food also translated into a year of start-up success. But despite the initial buzz from indulgent fare and a public launch on Food Network, Don and Jake’s thriving business soon hit a financing wall.
Finding Financing with Opportunity Fund
The problem? Once their year was up, Don and his son couldn’t afford the $80,000 required to buy their own food truck. “We said, ‘How are we going to do this?’ We don’t have enough cash in our pocket to buy the truck outright. How can we make this happen?”
Fortunately, the company that manufactured their truck referred Don to Salvador, an Opportunity Fund loan consultant, to get financed. “Salvador made it really easy to get the financing through. He would come in, tell me I need this, this and this. We provided it to him, and the next thing you know the loan was approved, and we were done.”
Because of Salvador, Mess Hall Canteen grew their enterprise without a hiccup and stayed competitive. “Opportunity Fund gave us the ability to continue our business. It’s nice that organizations like Opportunity Fund take veterans into consideration and help them out to realize their dreams.”
Social Media Explosion and National Success
Don and his son are committed to their dream, and work long days, weekends, and holidays to make it happen. But the father-son duo’s success doesn’t just come from working hard. They’re also business savvy. Their social media strategy, which showcases their “over-the-top” food, is what helps them thrive in the competitive food truck industry.
Mouthwatering videos of their food have been featured on websites such as Huffington Post, Fox News, and OC Weekly. Their most attention-grabbing video, featured by Insider Magazine, changed their business overnight. The video went viral and garnered a whopping 18 million views. “It completely changed our business. I’ve had so many people come up to our window and say, ‘We’ve seen your video online. We’ve seen your video on Facebook. We’ve seen this on Instagram.’”
Giving Back to Veterans While Expanding their Business
With his career in public service, Don knows that it’s hard for veterans to catch a break. So Don’s military theme extends beyond food: he and Jake make sure to take care of his fellow military veterans. Mess Hall Canteen has a priority to employ veterans and donates their tip jar to charities that support retired service members. The business also donates proceeds from t-shirt sales to veteran organizations like Patriots and Paws, a nonprofit that provides rescued companion animals to veterans and free home furnishing.
Don and Jack want to continue being a competitor and expand their family business. Depending on which new markets they decide to enter, they’ll add anywhere from one to three trucks to their fleet. Their decisions are guided by their swelling social media base, with many of their tens of thousands of followers based in Los Angeles and San Diego. Eventually, Don wants to see a Mess Hall Canteen in every major city in the United States. “We’re definitely hoping Opportunity Fund will be there with us in the next step of our thriving operation.”
Opportunity Fund is tackling economic inequality so that hard work and perseverance means a shot at getting ahead, not just struggling to get by. Our programs are supported by a community of donors and investors whose contributions help to fund small businesses, support college students, and build stronger families and vibrant neighborhoods. Since 1994, the team has deployed $600 million and helped 20,000 families earn, save and invest in their own futures. Opportunity Fund has earned a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator, for our commitment to accountability and transparency.
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