After earning a degree from one of the most prestigious culinary schools in the country, and sharpening his skills in the kitchens at a five-star resort, Chef Tommy D’Ambrosio probably didn’t think he’d end up serving burgers from a food truck in Phoenix. But Tommy’s in the habit of thinking three steps ahead — and he recognized a call from two friends as an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“While I was in West Virginia completing my three-year apprenticeship at The Greenbrier, two of my best friends from high school reached out to me to start a food truck. I thought they were crazy but saw a ton of opportunity and jumped in. … We went to First Friday out here and saw how many food trucks there were and how well it was going and how many people were there, and I just thought to myself, ‘We can do this. The barrier to entry is pretty minimal. The cost is relatively inexpensive to start your own business. And we just jumped right in and haven’t looked back.”
Before long, Aioli Gourmet Burgers was rolling.
A flavorful concept
After Tommy and his partners decided to move forward with the food truck idea, they dove straight into coming up with a concept that capitalized on Tommy’s fine dining experience and filled a niche in the Phoenix food truck market. Gourmet? Check. Burgers? Always a winner. Gourmet burgers? Boom! But what special ingredient to pull it all together? Aioli — a perfect base for myriad flavor profiles. As Tommy explains:
“All of our gourmet burgers have a signature aioli sauce that corresponds to the flavor profile of the burger. For example the California Burger is served with Pepper Jack cheese, fresh avocado, fried egg, pickled red onions and chipotle aioli.”
Digging into domain names
With a concept nailed down, Tommy and his team set out to register a catchy website address that would represent at a glance what their business had to offer.
“We used GoDaddy to search for domains that were available. … We went back and forth a thousand times — and while we did that, every single time we bought a domain. We tried to come up with something that flowed nicely, was just a couple words, and showed what we were actually selling. … We started purchasing multiple domains with names we thought fit our concept of gourmet burgers until we came up with Aioli Gourmet Burgers, compliments of my fiancé.”
To make remembering the web address as easy as possible, they chose AioliBurger.com as their primary website address. In a savvy business move, Tommy and crew directed one of the related domains they’d also registered — AioliGourmetBurgers.com — to the shorter AioliBurger.com address.
“Really how we get most of our business is through our domain,” Tommy says. “What’s great about our name is that ‘aioli’ and ‘burger’ is not put together as much as you might think, so on search engines it comes up pretty frequently. If you just type in ‘aioli burger,’ we’re right there at the top.”
The Aioli Burger crew joined GoDaddy’s Discount Domain Club to get sweet deals on names that will help them protect their brand online and pivot for growth. “I like the Discount Domain Club because it allows me to think of my next concept and purchase the domain without breaking the bank,” Tommy says. In a nutshell, he finds membership in the DDC beneficial because:
“We’re always coming up with new ideas. There are a lot of different things that we want to do eventually, so every time we think of an idea, we jump on real quick to make sure the domain isn’t taken — and we buy it if it’s not.”
Turning up the heat online
Then the Aioli Gourmet Burgers team turned to a WordPress website developer to help them showcase their concept online. They chose a WordPress template they considered intuitive, then worked with a graphic designer to come up with a great logo. “We went back and forth probably a hundred times to get the logo perfected to what we wanted,” Tommy says.
With the main brand elements in place, the team launched a comprehensive website (hosted with GoDaddy) — http://www.aioliburger.com — that gives visitors everything they need to know to start doing business with Aioli. “The website is the lifeline of my company. Without it, we wouldn’t have a key way to connect with our customers,” Tommy says. “Since we’re hosting with GoDaddy, I don’t have to worry about my website going down.”
Tommy and his partners also are big fans of using social media to promote their business, with an active presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “Social media is especially important for us because we move locations every day,” Tommy says. “It’s the perfect way to stay connected with our guests and let them know of specials we’re running that day. For example, we just promoted our Father’s Day special on our social media sites and gave free fries with a burger to all the fathers who mentioned the ad.”
Beyond the bun
Like many new businesses, Aioli Gourmet Burgers got its start on a shoestring. While the business’s founders appreciated the support of family and friends, “all we could afford was a truck that barely ran,” Tommy recalls. “But, little by little, we spent what we earned on the truck and got it up to par. Since then we have purchased another truck outright and plan on growing in the near future.”
The three words that epitomize success in Tommy’s book — respect, passion and talent — will drive that growth. As will the unique strengths he brings to the table as an entrepreneur:
“I’ve spent many years focusing on and honing my craft, and I’ve worked at some of the best restaurants in the country and studied at one of the best culinary schools in the nation. I’m dedicated to applying my experiences to my business while always treating everyone with respect and taking the time to share experiences with others.”
As part of his commitment to share what he’s learning about starting a new business, here are Tommy’s tips for other entrepreneurs:
- Look at all your costs. “There are so many hidden costs in every business.”
- Plan for the “what if.”
- Prepare to adapt to unexpected situations. “Every day is going to be different, so it’s all about your ability to adapt and overcome situations that will set you apart.”
- Learn how to “shut it off” and spend time with loved ones.
Looking to start a food service business? Check out more tips from Tommy:
From Aioli to Z
Still thinking three steps ahead, Tommy has big plans for his startup — goals that will take Aioli Gourmet Burger from a small business in Phoenix to an international restaurant chain. “We hope to expand Aioli Gourmet Burgers in other markets as well as create new concepts with high-quality ingredients and mind-blowing flavors at the forefront,” Tommy says. “I see Aioli Gourmet Burgers as part of a restaurant group with five different concepts connected.”
While the flavors might change, the underlying business philosophy will remain the same: Offer big flavors at an affordable price, using high-quality ingredients, while maintaining an incredible level of customer service.
That’s a big order to fill, day in and day out in the hot Phoenix sun. So how does a self-proclaimed workaholic keep his head in the right space while he’s grooming a startup to go global?
He cooks. Go figure.
Hungry? You can find the Aioli Gourmet Burgers truck from 5-10 p.m. every first Friday of the month at 3rd Street and Roosevelt in Phoenix and from 6:30-10 p.m. Saturdays at Food Truck Caravan night on 5th Ave. and Goldwater in Old Town Scottsdale. And you can always find out if Aioli Burger will be in your neighborhood by checking the Calendar tab at AioliBurger.com.
Also published on Medium.
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Image by: Angelo Villegas