How Fronting a $600 Dinner Saved Me $250,000

“Holy c%&p these are some of the best tacos we’ve tasted outside of South Central!” I commented to my wife as I jammed another mouthful of carnitas down my pie hole.

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We just got through standing in a revolving cue of about 50 other people at an Auckland food show, waiting to get our hands on a plate of Mexican street tacos being dished out of a very authentic looking food truck.

Rewind a couple of weeks… Being new in town my wife and I were looking to make some social connections and enjoy some good food and beverage. While at another local food event (are you noticing a theme? This is how we spend our off-time) we struck up a conversation with a young’ish couple that had just recently launched, you guessed it, a Mexican food truck.

Initially we were skeptical. New Zealand isn’t known for its Mexican cuisine. There are a couple of restaurants that call themselves “Mexican”, but the food normally lacks a bit of inspiration. It also usually lacks spice, which is quintessential! I’m not sure if it’s the soil, the variety of chiles or what, but even the Habaneros in New Zealand are just NOT that hot!

Having lived so close to Hispanic communities in the States, I’m used to mouth-melting, eye watering, skin searing hotness!!!

After expressing this to them they assured us that their food was “the authentic bomb”, but unfortunately they had sold out an hour before we found them, so we’d have to wait for next time! Apparently this was a common problem. Hmmmm…

Not one to miss an opportunity to talk to a fellow entrepreneur, despite the fact that I couldn’t get a taco, I decided to chat them up for a bit.

They were doing it right! They invested the time, having spent the last year or so travelling around Mexico to really learn their craft. They experimented, perfected their recipes and developed a go-to-market strategy. As a result they’re producing great food at an affordable price, and marketing it flawlessly.

Food trucks are all the rage in the States right now. Always on the lookout for unique, well-run businesses, and knowing a bit about the food business myself, I wanted to get to know these guys better. So, I invited them out to dinner.

After passing emails back and forth for a couple of weeks we found time in our schedules and settled on a place.

My wife and I put on our party duds and headed out for a rare night on the town with our new “friends”. We met them at the bar of the restaurant, where we exchanged hellos and proceeded to order, what else, a round of margaritas! The restaurant was Italian, but the topic of the evening would be Mexican food, so best get in the spirit right off!

They had already finished a round prior to our arrival, so we just proceeded to sit down at our table.

Small talk ensued, we battered one another with questions and basically tried to fit our lives into quick sound bites to get to know one another. All seemed to be going well. “Nice folks”, we thought.

We started to discuss the business and what inspired them. We shared our thoughts on their food and told them that we had also, at one time, considered starting a little Mexican take out place in a quaint little ski town. There was some common ground between us.

The waiter returned to take our order, and that’s where the fun began!

For the sake of brevity I’ll skip to the punch line… These new “friends” proceeded to order just about everything on the menu, including a massive antipasto plate, dozens of oysters, salads, lobster, bottles of wine, desserts, more drinks, and on and on it went. They were on a roll!

The conversation continued. Well, it wasn’t so much us talking, as us being talked “to”. We sat in stunned amazement at the audacity of our “guests”, and their inability to focus the conversation on anything but themselves.

Finally, as the evening was thankfully coming to an end and I had now paid the $600 bill, they decided to ask what it was that I did. I told them that I liked to seed interesting, early-stage businesses. Since we loved their product so much and they seemed like nice, smart people, we wanted to get to know them better and see if there was an opportunity to get involved in what they were building.

I’m not sure quite how to describe the looks or the responses. I think it was a bit of drunken, “yeah right!”

Whether they believed me or not, by this time any hope they had of ever getting a dime out of me was LONG GONE. Whether they realized it or not (and I’m not sure they did), their behaviour over the course of that 3 hour evening told me more than I could ever learn by pouring through their business plan, projections or personal CVs.

Were they intentionally trying to screw us? Did they think we were pulling off some kind of covert operation to “get information” from them and become a competitor? Were they just rude and stupid? I’m not sure.

Not surprisingly I never heard from them again. I intentionally lost their number after that evening, and they in turn lost more than just a potential seed investor…they also lost a customer. I’ve since turned around and shared this story with quite a few other “locals”, and now thousands upon thousands of others via this medium.

I’m not doing it because I’m bitter. I’ve got a stack of startups looking for capital sitting on my desk! And yes, $600 is a LOT to spend on dinner. I could have found much better uses for the cash. I’m actually hoping they, or someone they know reads this and passes it along. New Zealand is a small place, I’m sure it will happen.

My message to them, “I wish you the best!”

– Mark

“There is no sin except stupidity.” – Oscar Wilde

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