WILMINGTON- Governor Jim Douglas was on hand for the grand opening of Karen and Adam Grinold’s ZooHoo’s Eatery Wednesday afternoon.
ZooHoo’s Eatery is a mobile food trailer franchise based on the Grinolds’ successful WaHoo’s Eatery, now celebrating its 10th anniversary. Adam Grinold said the name change was prompted by possible confusion with a West Coast franchise, but in his mind, “ZooHoo’s is the baby Wahoo’s.”
Grinold said ZooHoo’s can outfit a franchisee with a trailer for somewhere between $69,000 and $150,000, depending on the type and amount of equipment installed – a franchisee that plans to concentrate on ice cream sales, for instance, may need a more expensive high-volume ice cream machine than a franchisee that plans to concentrate on lunches at an industrial park. The franchise deal includes everything from training in all aspects of the business to sourcing of grass-fed Vermont beef for the burgers, natural chicken, and signature menu items like Wahoo’s conch fritters.
Douglas said it was entrepreneurs like the Grinolds and enterprises like ZooHoo’s that have helped Vermont weather the global economic downturn. “This is a tough time for the economy but Vermont is faring better than other places,” Douglas said. “We have lower unemployment, and unlike many states, we were able to balance the budget and lower taxes this year. But it’s entrepreneurs who really make it happen.”
Douglas noted that when Wahoo’s opened a decade ago Grinold and his (now former) partners Chad Lackey and Andrew Palumbo faced a number of regulatory hurdles. Because the original building was a trailer and had no bathroom facilities, they weren’t allowed to have picnic tables for seating. “Then an amazing thing happened,” Douglas said. “These Vermont boulders started growing all around the place.” Douglas referred to a number of large boulders used for seating by Wahoo’s customers in the foodstand’s early days. Later, the foodstand was converted to a permanent building, bathrooms were added, and picnic tables were allowed.
The Grinolds’ mobile food franchise plan kicked into high gear after they won the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation’s business plan competition last year. BDCC Senior Director Bruce Gardener said the Grinolds blew the competition away with their plan, their idea, and their delivery – in the form of a skit. He said the panel of judges knew right away that they had a winning idea and the “intestinal fortitude to follow through with it.” In less than a year, the plan has gone from paper to reality.
“A year ago, it was fun to be with Adam and Karen at the BDCC competition,” said Douglas. “A year later, it’s great to be here for the launch of ZooHoo’s.”
Grinold notes that, although the mobile food industry is growing quickly thanks to a gourmet food cart movement on the West Coast, ZooHoo’s is one of only three mobile food franchises that he’s identified in his research, and ZooHoo’s may be the only one that is currently offering franchises for sale.
ZooHoo’s may be the right idea at the right time. Grinold’s first model trailer was set up at their Wahoo’s location just three weeks ago, and Grinold says it has already attracted four serious inquiries. One of the potential franchisees, a Connecticut resident with a second home in the area, had been looking for just such an opportunity when his wife passed the ZooHoo’s model trailer on her way to the couple’s vacation home. “When he came here to look at it, he was so excited he was already out of the car before it stopped,” says Grinold.
This fall, Grinold says, he’ll be taking the trailer on tour to industry shows and the college job fair circuit. Grinold says the current economy is encouraging some parents to consider buying a franchise for their graduates, rather than have them spend time on a fruitless job search or, worse, lounging on the couch at home. “That’s a trend we’re well aware of and planning to go after,” Grinold said. “ZooHoo’s is a low entry cost, high volume sales franchise that serves appealing fresh food.”
Grinold said ZooHoo’s will capitalize on Vermont’s reputation for fresh wholesome food, but the franchise is available for placement anywhere in the United States.