Photo courtesy of Allison Whitfield-Smith.
Allison Whitfield-Smith serves a four-legged customer from Fetch, a treat truck for dogs.
Allison Whitfield-Smith switched career paths from a corporate, science-based job to running a treat truck for dogs. The non-traditional leap came from a desire to love her job, she said, not simply tolerate it.
“People always ask what brings you joy? What, when you’re doing it, you can lose yourself in and not be looking at the clock going, ‘When do I get to go?’” said Whitfield-Smith, a Russet Woods resident. “Hanging out with dogs is one of the things where I can just totally lose myself in it.”
Whitfield-Smith considered working with nonprofit organizations that help animals, but she said the lack of paid positions meant it was not a financially feasible option. After watching a news segment on a New York-based dog treats truck, however, she knew the path she wanted to take.
“I totally jokingly said, ‘I can do that,’” she said. “… It seemed like a silly concept, but I kept thinking about it, and it was the only thing I could not talk myself out of.”
She decided to take the risk and buy a food truck, and after a few repairs and a new wrap, Fetch — a treat truck for dogs — was born. Now Whitfield-Smith stops by dog parks and dog-friendly events selling homemade dog treats, dog ice cream and other dog-friendly snacks.
“One of the things that’s funny to me is just watching peoples’ reactions when I’m at an event and people see the truck for the first time,” she said. “I usually get one of two reactions — it’s either ‘Oh my gosh, this is the greatest thing I have ever seen’ and people think this is a brilliant idea, or people just think, ‘What in the world?’”
Opening a new business comes with its own challenges, Whitfield-Smith said, especially when you’re working another part-time job and raising an 8-year-old daughter.
“Probably one of the biggest challenges is this takes up full-time, but I’m doing this part-time and I’m doing my other job part-time and I have a child,” she said. “So just managing my time [is difficult].”
Whitfield-Smith will use most of her spare time to bake and decorate treats, test out recipes and stop by dog parks or other events. While her husband and daughter help when they can, she mostly runs the truck by herself.
“The hardest part about having your own business is I have a choice every day to do something or not, and there are days when I don’t want to, but I need to,” she said.
Starting a new business also means confronting difficult decisions such as spending money to hopefully make money. Her father started his own business when he was her age, and Whitfield-Smith said she remembers how difficult the first few years were.
“This is huge for me,” she said. “There are so many things about it that are contrary to my basic personality when it comes to dealing with certain stuff. And that’s part of the reason I did it too, to challenge myself.”
The Fetch truck was fully operational starting in August 2015, and while the truck paid for itself month to month, she missed a lot of peak food truck season. This year, however, Whitfield-Smith hopes for business to pick up enough that Fetch can become her full-time job. She also plans to hold more private events, such as birthday parties, customer appreciation events and other pet-centered celebrations.
“There’s a lot of opportunity out there, I think,” she said. “It’s just a matter of finding the time to do it.”
Whitfield-Smith plans to attend several farmers markets and food truck events in the upcoming season. Even though she faces occasional engine trouble and slow days at the dog park, she said the challenges are worth loving what she does.
“I would rather try and fail than regret never trying,” she said. “And that was part of what was going on when I was trying to think of getting this started. I knew if I never tried this thing, I would regret it.”