Colorado food truck faces staffing crisis despite record sales
Ten years ago when Sarah Ladley started her Colorado, banana-based ice cream food truck Ba-Nom-a-Nom, she was ahead of the curve. Now, after nearly a year and a half of Covid setbacks, she is fighting to keep up.
Never in a million years did Sarah think she would become a business owner. In fact, she was on a pre-med track in undergrad when she started learning about population health and became interested in the failings of the American food system.
She explains, “I was tired of looking at the nutritional labels of things that are supposed to be ‘healthy,’ like granola bars and finding that they were basically just candy bars. You can’t make healthy decisions if they don’t exist.”
This was when Sarah started refining her recipe for the dairy-free ice cream she loved to make for her friends and family out of fruit. Straight out of college, she hit the ground running.
Being ahead of the market has been both a blessing and a curse. While she has been able to establish herself in her community, it has been difficult to market her plant-based product.
Sarah says, “These days, ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’ are buzzwords, but 10 years ago it was totally different.”
Now she is proud to say she has a wide range of fans who seek out her food truck from young kids to older adults.
It’s not only the smile on a customer’s face when they try Sarah’s naturally sweet treat that keeps her going, it is also her staff, many of whom are young high school or college students, who she strives to be a role model for.
In fact, Sarah’s staff has been incredibly important to her business, which she admits she couldn’t run on her own. When the pandemic hit, instead of hunkering down and waiting it out, she continued to work for the sake of her staff even though she was faced with a 70% loss in revenue last summer. However, with the help of her Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, she was able to continue paying those who needed the work.
Now, Sarah is faced with a crisis that food service entrepreneurs are dealing with across the country as many Americans re-evaluate their career paths—staffing shortages.
In 2021, Sarah has seen record days at various farmers markets and festivals, but she is still down 40% in sales compared to 2019. She has had to turn down event opportunities due to a lack of full-time staff because most of her employees are in school or have another job. Despite posting daily about job openings, Sarah is concerned she will not have enough staff to operate come August when school is back in session.
But Sarah isn’t giving up yet. She says, “There is nothing that can prepare you for being a business owner. You just have to roll up your sleeves and get back up when you get knocked down. You have to have thick skin and make sure you use your resources, but it's definitely rewarding.”