Aman Adatia and Stephanie Shields found themselves unsatisfied after a few years in the work force, but after coming to Mount Royal University for the Entrepreneurship Certificate of Completion through the Faculty of Continuing Education and Extension, they turned an idea into an award-winning business venture.
Adatia and Shields are co-owners of the Naaco Truck, one of Calgary’s most popular food trucks, which gives customers a curbside prospective on Indian cuisine. The word Naaco comes from the brilliant idea of combining the concept of the taco, but using naan bread in place of a taco shell.
“It was a real light bulb moment when we came up with that,” Adatia notes. “We combine the best mode of delivery – the taco – and the best flatbread — the naan — to make our delicious naaco. Next we want to work on offering a smaller quantity at a lower price as well as mix and match combos.
The Naaco Truck has seen a whirlwind of popularly in a short amount of time — the team launched the truck in the summer of 2012 — recently winning Best New Midway Food at this year’s Stampede for their deep-fried butter chicken dish. Their spicy Panchy Pig pork dish won Best Use of Local Ingredients at the Calgary Farmers Market’s Sundown Chowdown on Sept. 7., and was named Best Food Truck by CityTV’s Breakfast Television on Sept. 5.
Driving down the road to discovery
While he was a student, Adatia ran a catering business on the side and worked at DaGuido restaurant. After graduating with a degree in Biological Science, he worked for Alberta Health Services for three years when he realized it was not the life he wanted.
The duo was researching starting the business when Adatia found the Entrepreneurship program at Mount Royal.
“The MRU Entrepreneurship courses were important for start-up checks and balances. Norm [Leach} walked me through the legalities of operating a business and gave advice on the financials. He suggested that we play music as a way of attracting business and reinforcing our brand,” Adatia notes about his one of his MRU instructors.
“Judy [McMillan-Evans] is without a doubt one of the most indispensable resources we have. She’s great to bounce ideas off of. We still talk every couple of weeks and she helps us get through sticking points.
“For example, we wanted to get some takeaway boxes with handles, like Tim bits boxes. But talking to Judy helped us realize that boxes that cost less than half the prices of the ones with handles was the obvious way to go and it still carries our branding. She told me it was the best non-decision I made,” Adatia says with a laugh.
Adatia and Shields also insist on being as green as possible in their business and are Canada’s first LEAF-certified [Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice] food truck.
The containers they use are recyclable, the purchase fresh, locally sourced ingredients as much as they can and they don’t sell bottled water but have H2O, revitalized and re-mineralized Calgary water, available to fill customers’ own containers.
One of the things that make the Naaco Truck successful is Adatia and Shields’ insistence on cooking on their truck, rather than cooking off-site and reheating. Another is their unique menu, which melds the sophisticated flavours of Indian cuisine.
A family and friends affair
“Networking was another advantage of the Entrepreneurship program,” Adatia says.
The H2O water supplier is an Entrepreneurship classmate. Their tea supplier, Jonathan Kane of The Naked Leaf, is a previous Entrepreneurship program success story.
“There were a few people in my program who ultimately decided that small business wasn’t for them,” Adatia says. “Taking a course to find that out is a lot better than investing $200,000 and then deciding they don’t want to do it. The Mount Royal program was really good for that. But coming into the program with an idea for a business worked for us.
“We built everything from the ground up. We opened two-and-a-half weeks before the Stampede and it was absolutely crazy getting everything ready. We’ve done all the marketing ourselves. We’re on Twitter and Facebook and our website is the only food truck in Calgary that gives the weekly schedule.”
Adatia and Shields also are focused on the betterment of the community. They have a cause of the month that gives customers the opportunity to donate a dollar to a selected charity for a chance to win a free combo at the end of every week — for September the charity is Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids.
“Naaco’s team chooses a well-deserving organization that mirrors its own philosophy — everything from environmental to giving kids a healthy meal at school,” the website notes. “We hope to be leaders in the community and work hard to make our city and our world a better place."
"Food trucks are the next big thing,” Adatia says, as he believes the trucks help to create a vital street life and increase exposure for existing businesses rather than competing with them. “Nenshi’s initiative to cut the red tape has been great, but they need to take it even further.”
The Naaco Food Truck has a staff of five including Adatia as chief Naaco maker and co-owner, Shields as right-hand woman and co-owner, Shields’ sister Stephanie and Adatia’s mother are Naaco ambassadors.
Adatia says, “It’s a real family affair.”
— Karen McCarthy, Oct. 4, 2012