Before realizing his dream of opening a restaurant, Eduardo Bocock began a business customizing food trucks in Manassas, Va. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
Reporter

After lots of guys I know have accumulated piles of money, they often get the itch to chase a dream. It might be making a movie, owning a restaurant, buying a sports team or whatever.

Eduardo Bocock didn’t make a fortune, but the entrepreneur figured he had earned enough — $1.5 million trading options — to pursue his passion of becoming a restaurateur. Lucky for him, given all that goes into creating a successful eatery, the 44-year-old native of Costa Rica found a far less risky business along the way.

Bocock’s East Coast Custom Coaches in Manassas, Va., turns out about six food trucks a month — the type you see parked outside your office selling items such as pho and falafels — at an average price of $64,000.

Bocock’s team of 17 full-timers has built 300 of these “kitchens in a box” over the past eight years at his space in an industrial park in Prince William County. Based on the number of orders over the past few months, he expects to gross about $4.7 million this year.

The food-truck business is booming, he said: “We get calls and calls and calls and calls.” His secret sauce is a payment plan that allows would-be rolling chefs to plunk down 30 percent of the cost and make monthly payments on the balance from the food truck’s earnings.

Many of Bocock’s customers are immigrants trying to get a piece of the American Dream. They are the sort of people “willing to try something that is perceived as very high risk that also requires a lot of hard work,” he said.

Bocock can appreciate the value of rolling up one’s sleeves. He expects to earn a double-digit operating-profit margin, which probably puts his profits in the range of $500,000 before interest, taxes and depreciation.

East Coast typically starts with what are known as step vans; a new one can cost $40,000 to $75,000 or more when it arrives at Bocock’s plant for customization.

Bocock is a manufacturer by definition, but he sees himself as a consultant.

“We provide mobile business solutions,” said Bocock, sounding every bit the MBA-tested entrepreneur (which he is).

One customer bought five over several years.

Bocock charges a $38,000 flat fee to design and build a food-truck kitchen that will exactly fit the customer’s needs, whether it’s wood-oven pizza, spit-roasted chicken, sandwiches, hamburgers or what have you.

He sells the kitchen equipment and the generator at cost and uses the $38,000 fee to cover everything else, from labor to stainless steel walls, insulation and vents, and his profit.

The average truck takes about eight weeks from the time it comes into the shop until it is delivered to the customer. Although the Washington market is strong, orders come from across the United States. The company even sold three trucks to a buyer in Dubai. They were sent across the Atlantic on container ships.

Bocock was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug early.

His grandfather helped build railroads in Honduras and Guatemala for Dole, then known as Standard Fruit Co. The grandparents made enough to send Bocock’s father to college in the United States, where he studied engineering. (Eduardo’s uncle was president of Honduras.)

Eduardo started out in engineering as well, then switched to accounting at the University of Notre Dame because “it’s the language of business.”

From childhood to young adulthood, he worked for a family ice cream business that grew to 132 stores throughout Honduras.

“I was scooping ice cream when I was 6 years old,” Bocock said.

After Notre Dame, he landed a job as an analyst with the New York Fed, then spent 1998 through 2000 earning an MBA at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.

After stints in mergers and acquisitions at JPMorgan in New York and as a financial analyst at a large Coca-Cola bottler serving Central and South America, he decided to move to Reston, where his wife’s family lived. He had moved seven times in five years, been laid off twice after his employers merged, and was seeking stability.

He wanted to learn the restaurant business, so Bocock in 2005 took an intensive, six-month course in restaurant management in New York City, commuting from Reston and living during the week in a “closet” on the Upper East Side.

The big takeaway from one of the classes came when an instructor on the first day asked the group, “Are you here for the green [money] or the glory [celebrity]? If it’s for the glory, you are going to lose your shirt.”

Bocock took that to heart.

To fund himself and his family, he began trading options throughout 2007. In January 2008, he cashed out with more than $1 million to fund his restaurant dream.

He quickly realized the search for the right restaurant was going to take years.

“This was going to be two years to negotiate and sign a lease, so I had the idea, ‘Why don’t I open a food truck while I am looking?’ ”

He found a manufacturer in Texas and flew down to talk to him. And that is where Bocock discovered a future business.

“The guy didn’t know what he was doing, and I was handing him $65,000. If this idiot can make food trucks, I can make food trucks,” Bocock said

In 2008, with $25,000 of his own cash, he opened East Coast with the help of a mechanic who worked on recreational vehicles. While he waited for the food-truck business to grow, he customized trucks for all kinds of clients.

He customized one truck for a 3D photo mobile lab in New York City. He built a mobile “clean server” for a technology company that helps clients who have been hacked. One of Washington’s top real estate equity firms ordered a truck so its sales team could take showrooms to potential customers.

It took a couple of years, but he found his first food-truck customers through word of mouth in 2010. By the first quarter of 2012, he had turned a profit.

The business has had its bumps. He claims he has been ripped off by some employees, in some cases quite substantially. Bocock thanks his accounting background for enabling him to catch the fraud.

Still, while he was building that business, he slowly saw to fruition his dream of creating a restaurant.

It is called the White Apron, a sandwich shop he launched in 2013 on 11th Street NW, just off Pennsylvania Avenue. He collected investors from his JPMorgan and Coca-Cola bottling years, and sank $1.2 million into the project. It took months to negotiate the lease, which runs nearly 200 pages.

White Apron posted its first profitable year in 2015, Bocock said. Business was pretty brisk when I stopped by to interview him last week.

You might say his pursuit of glory led to green.