For exactly two years, Michael Sirianni and his small cast of characters at BUZZ have been sequestered behind a window on King Street, attached to Aussie and the Fox. Just last Saturday, Aussie opened its doors for the final time, taking Buzz's window location with it. Thankfully, Sirianni's plan was always to add on a food truck component to the business - so, as he says, that plan just got expedited. We caught up with him at the Fridge to find out where we'll be able to find the BUZZ truck and what comes next.
1. So, when did you find out about Aussie closing?
I think the offer that they got was before the holidays. They were really upfront with me about it and told me to look for other options. The idea is not that we’ll live in a truck forever, though. The idea has kind of always been that Buzz is a brand that will continue to grow and become something different as the community needs it to. The inevitable idea would be to include some live music, so that’s something that you don’t typically think of when you think of breakfast, but we didn’t really set out to be a breakfast place, either.
2. Have you acquired the truck?
We have the truck, I’ve driven it around the city a couple of times. It was a food truck in its previous life, but it definitely needs some upgrades. The gentleman that owned it before ran Crave over on Millersville’s campus. The timeline is, Aussie came to me and gave me notice, I looked online and priced out some new and used food trucks and then quickly settled on the idea of doing something local and used as to not blow the bank on a new shiny toy. So now we’re able to move forward a little comfortably, as opposed to spending $800,000 on a moving restaurant.
3. Are there any changes specifically?
There are some food and fire codes that you have to get approval for from the city that are different for a mobile unit. If you’re in one spot and you start a fire and you’re insured for “X,” that’s one thing. But if you’re mobile, and you start a fire in the southeast or on North Queen street, those are distinctly different neighborhoods with distinctly different property values. So the city basically looks at all that and says, “We’re just going to go with the strictest set of rules.” And it’s great, it actually makes my job easier because it’s a no-brainer then – you have to do everything right the first time and then you pass your inspection and you’re golden. It’s not like you can take shortcuts. The restaurant business in general is not a business for shortcuts, but I’m finding out food trucks are even less so.
4. I've always wondered this about food trucks - will you have a set schedule or will you be sort of driving around aimlessly?
I’m really lucky, because I have a buddy joining our little marketing pow-wow team, and his job is sort of wrangling all that stuff. He’s got all this tech knowledge that I don’t understand. Essentially, what’s going to happen is that there will be a schedule I e-mail him that will be for 90 days and then he can use plug-ins and bots and all that craziness to make sure every single day that our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and our website are always updated with where we are for breakfast and lunch and also a map that you can click on. Hopefully it will be, knock on wood, seamless [laughs].
5. If you decide one day that, I don’t know, you want to go to Harrisburg, can you just do that? Are there rules for driving outside county lines?
So I’ve actually talked to Harrisburg, they have pretty much the same set of rules that Lancaster does. Once we’re up and running and we find out, “Oh, Tuesdays are kind of dead, let’s try a new market,” then it makes perfect sense. I think you know this, but I’m a huge advocate for Lancaster. I think we’re the greatest small food city in the United States, so there’s no reason that people from Harrisburg shouldn’t eat fresh food from Lancaster once or twice a month in a way that’s fun and convenient and fast. There are cities you can’t go to, like, you can’t go to Philly unless you have a Philly vendor’s license. But again, Lancaster city is either more or slightly less strict as Lancaster county, which is similar to almost everywhere else in the country, so we can go to Lititz or Pottsville or wherever and do an event.
6. Not necessarily in a city or town aspect, but are there partnerships you’re looking to do that you wouldn’t have been able to do in the window?
Our brand is basically all about – “Have fun” is one of our core values. Honestly, to become B Corp certified, I had to sit down and write out our values. I thought, Ok, I’m going to make sure that every single day at every one of our locations, even some day when we have 100 locations, if we get that lucky, one of my biggest priorities is that people are having fun. So, music festivals, breweries, outdoor festivals, rock climbing, hiking, boating, all summer, all day every day, we’re going to be out there looking for something fun to do.
7. What are the main differences you’re looking forward to being on the truck as opposed to the window?
I think one of the things that has started to wear on us being in the window is that we’ve built a really loyal customer base and we don’t really see anyone outside of that. It’s been a long time since we’ve met a significant number of new people, so this will be great for us to go out and say, “This is what we do, this is who we are, this is what we give back to the community.” I would have loved to have kept our spot on King Street, but we’ve been sort of plateaued for a while.
8. Aussie is officially closed now, so is there a loose timetable for you to hit the streets?
We’ve agreed to do a few events during the first week of May. I met with the city today and there are a few hurdles that need to be cleared to get that done, but I’m confident – knock on wood – that we can make that happen. So I think we’ll be closed for two weeks and on the third week, we’ll be ready. Keep throwing wrenches, and I’ll keep avoiding them, that’s sort of how I’m looking at this thing [laughs]. You can’t really get away with doing things the wrong way – you have to get your insurance together, you have to get your money together, get your menu together and then get approval from the powers that be. Those processes are going to take as long as they’re going to take, but we’re certainly not sitting around on our hands wishing there was work to do. We’re going to be in the truck every day, replacing equipment, getting the decals on, booking events so we can get out there and impress people.
9. How does BUZZ’s status as a B Corp change in the switch to the truck, if at all?
This term gets thrown around, but it’s really revolutionized how I think about my business. I set out to be community friendly, and as soon as the concept of B Corp was brought to my attention, I immediately fell in love with the whole concept that business can be a vehicle for doing good. It’s B Corp language, but the idea is not that you’re the best in the world, you’re the best for the world. It’s something I take very seriously. It’s funny, my daughter is doing a report for school, and she was like, “Can I ask you a few business questions?” She asked what some of the considerations I have when I hire someone. I told her, every job we create is a living wage job. Every job we create in this community means that ought to be able to afford their groceries, car payments, their apartment. We’re not paying minimum wage because it’s best for business, we’re paying a working wage because it’s best for the community.
10. Is there anything you’re hoping for specifically for BUZZ by the end of the year?
Yes, our 2019 goal was to figure out specifically if there is certain research that exists on childhood hunger in Lancaster County. I’ve been very barely in touch with the (Lancaster County) Community Foundation, which is always way too busy and needs about 80 more volunteers in that office. I’ve been in touch with them. That’s something that, philanthropically, I’d like to put all my marbles into this year. I’d very much like to have a spring, summer and fall for Buzz where we can go into 2019 opening a brick and mortar café, doing all the same things we did on King Street, plus the truck. The plan always was open brick and mortar, and then get a truck. Now that the brick and mortar was taken away from us, we’re expediting the truck [laughs].
Keep up with BUZZ's comings and goings at their website here.