Small Business

Trader leaves Wall Street for the food truck business

Going into business isn't as easy as it looks, even after a career on Wall Street. It's even trickier when your business is selling yak, kangaroo and alligator meat.

Tyrone Green, owner of Dark Side of the Moo food truck, serves customers at the CNBC headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
Marguerite Ward | CNBC

Tyrone Green, who left Wall Street to start the "Dark Side of the Moo" food truck, said that many of the lessons he learned in finance he had to learn all over again as his own boss in the high-paced, win-or-lose food industry.

"One minute you're making a ton, and the next you're losing your shirt," he said.

Green, who operates his food truck in New Jersey, is one of many Americans creating jobs for themselves. Nearly half of the country's top 40 metropolitan areas saw increases in start-up activity, according to a recent study by the Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit focused on education and entrepreneurship.

In 2014, New Jersey was ranked sixth nationally for new business creation by the U.S. Department of Commerce Foundation.

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Before starting his business, Green traded precious metals for six years and then worked at a hedge fund until he decided he was burned out. "I need to stop doing this," Green said he told himself at the time.

After Hurricane Sandy devastated his neighborhood in Hoboken, New Jersey, Green was inspired by food trucks' efforts to feed people in the area and got on the road with his own.

Green said entrepreneurship has brought volatility along with freedom.

"In the summer, you're working 80 hours a week," he said. "It's very seasonal, it doesn't matter how good your product is. You work really hard in the summer, and then you have nothing to do in January."

Cajun alligator sausage from Louisiana, a dish from the Dark Side of the Moo food truck.
Marguerite Ward | CNBC

In addition to seasonal variation, Green deals with fluctuating food prices. He said prices for his wild meats have increased about 10 percent since last year.

The rising price of beef was his biggest, but luckily his only, major price increase. He blamed the increase on corn going to ethanol production and driving up feed prices.

The drought gripping some Western states hasn't affected his business, Green said, though his wild boar meat comes from Texas, one of the hardest-hit states. His yak and beef come from New Jersey, alligator from Louisiana, bison and elk from Canada, and kangaroo from Australia.

Other unpredictable factors have caused a spike in prices, however.

The avian flu that's struck Iowa and other Midwestern states "has impacted the price of eggs, because a lot of chickens were culled. It's still an issue. It's getting worse," said Green, who put his year-over-year cost increase for eggs at 40 percent.

The ups and downs have taught him to be disciplined, not only mentally but financially.

"I made $10 my first two days, and thought, 'What have I done?' " he said. "But you've got to believe. That's another trading thing. You've got to know when to give up and when to be strong."

A line forms at the Dark Side of the Moo food truck, outside CNBC headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
Marguerite Ward | CNBC

Green, who won the best food truck in New Jersey for 2015 at the Jersey Shore Food Truck Festival, now tweaks his menu the way he used to tweak portfolios. By focusing on exotic meats, Green feels he has virtually no competition.

"The only real direct competition is the high-end restaurants offering venison steak, or food like that, but we're in totally different markets," Green said. He is considering adding snacks of python and guinea pig to his menu.

A food truck requires significantly less investment than opening a restaurant. Green said that food trucks can be a good way for hopeful entrepreneurs to build their credit.

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"With any small business, if you have history, you can get credit. If you don't, you can't get credit, but that's what you need to get a history," Green said. "You're looking at $250,000 for a restaurant."

Green said the legal process to become a food truck owner was straightforward. However, navigating the different food truck regulations between cities can be difficult.

Jon Hepner, president of the New Jersey Food Truck Association, said he's faced challenges managing the complicated regulations. "I'd love to see our industry standardized statewide," he said.

Hepner spent more than 20 years in the corporate world before starting his own food truck, Aroy-D Thai Elephant.

In the four years that he's operated his truck, Hepner has relearned a number of valuable business lessons. He said new business owners shouldn't try to appeal to everyone, but should focus on a strong brand.

"You've got to have one product that you specialize in if you want to make it," he said.