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Rolling in dough: mobile food hits the corporate world

Expressway Pit Beef at Vocus HQ

Expressway Pit Beef's Jason Farrell

Serving corporate customers, making bank

Lining up for Go Fish at Rock Spring Park

If it's Thursday and it's lunchtime, Expressway Pit Beef has set up an outpost inside of Vocus headquarters in Beltsville, Md. And owner Jason Farrell has laid out a spread: barbecue beef, barbecue pork, potato salad and all the fixings.

And Vocus employees, 700 of whom work in the corporate headquarters, are lining up in the "town square," a covered area in the center of the 125,000-square-foot office complex.

"Trust me," says Farrell. "They know I'm coming, and they're glad to see me."

On a good day, he says, he sells two hundred meals. Even on a slow Thursday, he still manages to sell about a hundred.

It's good business for Farrell, who owns two brick-and-mortar restaurants in addition to a catering business. "I do wonderful," he says. "A lot of them want me there twice a week, but I just think you wear out your welcome."

At suburban offices, where employees often have to hop in their cars to get lunch, food trucks and caterers can bring the outside world in. Vocus, which makes marketing and PR software, offers its HQ employees perks including on-site car repair and dry-cleaning. For Vocus, bringing in new and exciting food options is just another way to keep employees happy.

But for food trucks that operate outside of dense urban areas, where it's often a struggle to get a critical mass of customers in one spot, being invited to a corporate headquarters or office park is a great opportunity to sell a lot of food in a short time.

Indeed, lines get long for many of the regular visitors to Vocus. Especially for the Go Fish truck, which serves fish tacos and crab cakes that are employee favorites.
 
When Go Fish pulls up, "you better be ready and get in line," says Cal Shilling, the VP of human resources at Vocus.

Go Fish owner Missy Carr says she's served up to 120 people during a trip to Vocus. That's more than double the number she can count on serving when she parks on a street corner in Rockville or Bethesda, she says.

"Those are always the best locations for us," says Carr of corporate spots, "because of the internal help."

Carr's internal help comes in the form of an email that the Vocus HR department sends out a few days ahead of her arrival to let employees know when she'll be there. Sometimes they even put a sign up in the lobby.

"Internal marketing is so valuable. There not enough of those opportunities." For Carr, it's a level of marketing that's hard to find elsewhere. While food trucks in the District rely on Twitter and Facebook to tell fans where they're parked, Montgomery County trucks have more trouble getting their audiences out, Carr says. "In general, people in the County don't seem to use social media like they do in the city," she says.

That makes a stop like Vocus all the more important to her business. "Internal marketing is so valuable," she says. "There not enough of those opportunities."

Go Fish also makes frequent appearances at the monthly Food Truck Fiesta in Rock Spring Park, a business park off of Rockledge Drive in Bethesda. The cluster of buildings houses an IBM office, a few branches of the National Institutes of Health, and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, among many other businesses. Both Lockheed Martin and Marriott have headquarters a short walk away.

The Food Truck Fiesta began last summer as a farmers market, held in the green space (complete with a pond) in the center of the office park, says Stacee Longenecker, who manages the Rock Spring Park Owner Association as a part of her job at Piedmont Office Realty Trust.Any time the tenants are happy, that's when you get the word-of-mouth that brings new tenants in.

Longenecker wanted to offer the complete farmers market experience to the Rock Spring tenants. And, as every Washingtonian knows, a good farmers market requires at least one cupcake stand, plus a handful of food trucks. So Longnecker reached out to GO Fish, Curley's Q and other Montgomery County trucks.

The farm stands proved seasonal, but Longenecker continued to invite four to five food trucks to the office park on the third Thursday of every month.

"It's kind of a balancing act," Longenecker says of how she landed on that number. "You don't want so many trucks that nobody gets good business, but for my tenants I need to make it so the lines aren't crazy and there are choices."

Like the team at Vocus, Longenecker sends out an email newsletter to her tenants, as well as to the property managers of nearby buildings, detailing which trucks are arriving when.

Longenecker says events such as the Food Truck Fiesta make tenants happy. And that makes her happy, she says. "Any time the tenants are happy, that's when you get the word-of-mouth that brings new tenants in."
 
"It's all under one roof, so it's not like we have to travel between clients." At Vocus, it's not just food that keeps employees happy. The Beltsville headquarters, a sprawling 125,000-square-foot exercise in new urbanism known as Vocus Town, is modeled on the planned community of Seaside, Florida, with coffee shops, candy stores and faux fire stations, all under one large roof.
 
One of those storefronts houses a spa where Roland Turner brings her mobile spa business, Pamper Me Please. Once a week, Vocus employees can make an appointment for a 15-minute chair massage for $15, a manicure for $25, or a 60-minute table massage, among other options.
 
"For us, it's a great standing weekly appointment," Turner says. "It's all under one roof, so it's not like we have to travel between clients." Without losing time to driving, Turner and her employees can serve up to a dozen people in their four-hour window at Vocus. "So how great is that?" she says.
 
And even though Turner isn't an employee, she enjoys the perks of her weekly trips to Vocus Town. "Even being a vendor here, you get spoiled too because you have access to some of their amenities," she says. "Those crab cakes are great."
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