The Frizzells' world-beating, money-making taco truck

CHEREE PHILLIPS
Last updated 13:41 05/09/2014
Jane Ussher
Otis, Sarah and Poppy Frizzell at home in their Western Springs bungalow
Jane Ussher
Their taco creations are handmade, an impressive feat when turning over around 100 per hour.
Tessa Chrisp
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Thinking outside the flocks Hooked on Stewart Island New life for a 100-year-old Rangitikei farm Down Lynda Hallinan's garden path NOM*d: At home with Margi Robertson Panhead brews a ewe's milk beer The Frizzells' world-beating, money-making taco truck Artist Ema Frost: graphic content ahead Artist Sam Mathers: graphic content ahead The husband and wife duo of Dreamboat Books

This is the story of the taco truck that went from the clean streets of Auckland's Ponsonby to being named one of the world's best food trucks by travel megasite Expedia.

When Sarah Frizzell left her UK home nine years ago it took almost all her cooking prowess to boil an egg. These days she dices, chops, tastes and seasons at 100 tacos an hour, a far cry from the advertising career that brought her to New Zealand. However, the job did connect her with Otis, thanks to a blind date arranged by his brother Josh, the director of Sarahs first commercial. Ignoring the excited chatter of colleagues and fighting the nervous urge to cancel the date was a good decision: Sarah met her future husband and the perfect partner for her budding ideas. The couples tradition of Taco Friday was a hit with friends and family; why not take it further?

After resigning from her job, their house renovations went on hold, they borrowed some money and bought the truck. It took about two years from seed to fruition with the first taco fulfilling its culinary destiny in May last year. "It's almost impossible to guess, but over the past year we must have sold about 60,000 tacos". With ideas come questions and a vital part of their plan was finding the right people to guide and support them. Sarah and Otis three business partners are mentors, sounding boards and friends as well as investors who are growing the brand from food truck to The Lucky Taco Imperio, a separate brand that promotes a range of hot sauces, seasonings, T-shirts, aprons... all helping them along the path to world domination.

For 42-year-old Otis, taco tycoon is just another addition to a long list of tested careers. Hes been part of the art world since the day he could hold a pencil but it would be a struggle to fit it all on a business card: DJ, TV presenter on the Mo Show, tattoo artist and rapper. "A lot of what I was doing was a young mans sport. We were travelling the world with a camera but not getting paid. When I hit my 30s, most of my income came from my art so I cut back and focused on that." It's a route that many waited eagerly for him to take, following the lead of father Dick, an eminent New Zealand artist. "I see myself standing in the light of my father, not the shadow. It's hard not to be influenced by such a larger-than-life character. People do draw similarities but it's more that I've been influenced by his influences." The time and dedication it took to get The Lucky Taco up and running meant art took a back seat. "With the family name, people tend to assume it's my venture so I'm always stressing that this is Sarah's brainchild. Every business needs a masthead and a boss, it takes too long to make decisions otherwise. I'm not hung up on my wife being my boss."

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For Sarah, success in the business means seeing Otis back in his studio, transforming paper and ink into works of art. "There's no line between home and work which can be hard but we love it, even though it can be overwhelming. Now I'm that person who falls asleep at every party!" It's hard to imagine these two ever stepping back, signing the Frizzell name in the corner and announcing their work complete. Their end goal is only now starting to take shape. If some people can sell ice to Eskimos, why not take it a step further and sell tacos to Mexicans? "It's easy to start freaking out but then we sit down with rational people and realize that everyone has to take risks and not play it safe all the time."

Life's lessons

Sarah: The best thing ever is when people say they have been inspired by our story or that good things come to good people. I hope we are proof that anyone can do what they want to. You have to put yourself on the line and work bloody hard.

Otis: A lot of people said we were crazy, that it's all hard work and no money (well, they would suggest it if not say it outright). It's not about making money. If you start with lots of money you are likely to make more, but if you want to make something awesome, start with nothing.

Sarah: Opinions – everyone's got them. My nan always says, "Carry on with your knitting".

Otis: My favourite tattoos are the first and last. It's rare for your first tattoo at 15 to end up still being a favourite 25 years later. Most of them are terrible mistakes but it was a skull pretty similar to our logo. My latest is a pair of dancing skeletons from the Mexican Festival of the Dead. They look like Sarah and me, dancing off into the afterlife together.

Sarah: Never eat a taco with a knife and fork. Ever.

The cost of success

"The truck started its days as transport for the elderly and later was used as the tour vehicle for rock bands The Naked and Famous and The Checks. It cost about $150,000 to transform it into what we wanted. It didn't need to be that much but we knew this was our star performer so we wanted to get it right. We also transformed our double garage into a fully compliant commercial kitchen. That cost about $30,000 to fit out but it's brilliant being able to walk outside, pop the pork in the oven and head back in. With the hot sauce, our business partners pitched in about $20,000 and we started the creative process. It's now stocked in 15 outlets around the country."

For Sarah's Mexican caramel dessert, extra photos of the Frizzells and to meet more inspiring New Zealanders, visit NZ Life & Leisure's website. To subscribe to NZ Life & Leisure, visit mags4gifts.co.nz

The September/October issue is on sale now.

- NZ Life & Leisure

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