Rolling in Dough

A former IT consultant uses his business savvy to launch a food truck selling family recipes

November 13, 2012

Rachan Malhotra’s food truck, Rolls on Rolls, serves Indian food inspired by his mother’s cooking.

Rachan Malhotra, 34

Salary: $60,000

POSITION: Owner, Rolls on Rolls food truck (@rollsonrolls)

WHAT HE DOES: Malhotra brings a taste of his family’s healthy Indian cooking to the streets of Washington, D.C.

Malhotra and his staff start work early in the morning in the Silver Spring kitchen he rents. They marinate chicken and prep the paneer (Indian cheese) for Rolls on Rolls’ signature dish: an unfried version of the classic kathi sandwich wraps sold on the streets of Delhi. They also bake samosas and mix up mango lassis. They even grind their own spices: “That’s one thing that sets us apart in terms of flavor,” Malhotra says.

Each morning Malhotra loads the food onto his Crayola-yellow truck and fires up the steamers inside to keep things hot. By 9:30 a.m. he’s hunting for a parking spot around one of the squares that are popular food truck destinations.

When the lunch lines start to form around 11:30, Malhotra starts taking orders. He helps customers decide which fillings they would like on their whole-wheat kathi wrap — chicken, chickpeas, mixed vegetables or paneer. The sandwiches are topped with one of Malhotra’s freshly made chutneys, which range from mild to mouth-tingling.

HOW HE GOT THE JOB: After graduating from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur in 1999, Malhotra began a career in IT consulting. “I’m Indian, so I only had two options: Be a programmer or be a doctor,” Malhotra jokes.

While working on projects in D.C., he saw some of the successful food trucks here. He thought he could make money by selling a version of his mother’s cooking to hungry Washingtonians.

Homage to his mom aside, his parents found Malhotra’s new career a bit unusual. “It’s not an Indian thing to do,” says Malhotra. “I couldn’t quit my job and start a food truck [in India]. The social pressure would be immense.”

Malhotra launched Rolls on Rolls in April 2011 in Silver Spring. That October he rolled into D.C.

WHO WOULD WANT THIS JOB: An entrepreneurial spirit is a requirement for running a food truck, as is the startup capital to go with it.

Malhotra had to save enough money to buy a truck and to support himself and his young son for a few months while developing his menu.

Once he got going, he learned firsthand that sales fluctuate throughout the year. “It’s a roller-coaster ride,” he says. “You’ve got to be able to handle that.”

HOW YOU CAN GET THIS JOB: Visit the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs for information on how to start a food truck business. They can help you with licensing and training and offer advice on health inspections and truck dimensions.

Of course, you also need a truck. The popular website Food Truck Fiesta endorses East Coast Custom Coaches (571-292-1583) to buy new or used trucks. You could also try your luck with an independent dealer on Craigslist.org, as Malhotra did.

Once you’re up and running, the D.C. Food Truck Association is here to help, lobbying on behalf of trucks and organizing food truck festivals, such as the Curbside Cookoff.

If you don’t have a cooking background — or don’t have great family recipes to inspire you — the Art Institute of Washington and L’Academie de Cuisine offer full- and part-time culinary programs.

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