Test drive

World Street Kitchen validates the ‘food truck first, restaurant second’ strategy

By Hebba Aburia

Now that Minneapolis has been food truck–friendlier for a few years  thank you, City Council  it's worth revisiting the idea of using a food truck as a test run for a restaurant. One local entrepreneur who pulled off the feat is chef Sameh Wadi.

With his brother Saed, Wadi started World Street Kitchen as a food truck in September 2010, at a fraction of the cost and time that a restaurant would have required. Once his concept (global flavors, low prices) proved popular, he also turned it into an Uptown restaurant in November 2012.

Wadi had originally intended to launch the concept as a restaurant, but when Minneapolis made it easier to launch food trucks, he had a change of plans. "I wanted to do street food, and what better way to do it than actually in the street," he says.

In designing the restaurant, he aimed to recreate the food truck feel, matching its atmosphere, counter service, and even prices while also broadening the menu to take advantage of a larger kitchen.

"The design of the place somehow feels like the truck," says Randall Nelson, a frequent customer of both the food truck and the restaurant. "I love the expansion of the menu and the open kitchen."

Wadi, who with his brother also runs Saffron Restaurant & Lounge in downtown Minneapolis, offers plenty of advice for would-be restaurateurs. Hospitality gets overlooked in a lot of places, he notes, but WSK treats its customers right. "I call them guests; they're in my house."

He also stresses the importance of dedication, hard work, and a solid crew. And he says it's important to resist the temptation to cut corners  maintaining high-quality food, he says, gives WSK an edge in the long run.

For all that, though, Wadi believes there's no secret to success in the restaurant business and that simply being in it is a risk. "It's dice - you just roll and hope for the best."

Of course, as Wadi did, it helps if you can test your concept with a food truck first.