In this installment of Meet the Merchant, we speak to April Williams of À La Cart Orlando in Orlando, Florida. April shares her love of food pods, her unique business model, and how Clover helps her keep up with payments processing on busy evenings.
Clover: Hi April, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. How did you and your husband decide to launch À La Cart Orlando?
April Williams: My husband, Dustin, and I both have an extensive background that led us to this point. Dustin’s career has spanned finance, residential construction, and actuary science, and I have worked in materials engineering, while we both have maintained a strong connection to craft beer as a hobby and side job. In our 13 years together, we have traveled and lived all over the world—including Australia and the Pacific Northwest.
After moving to central Oregon to work full-time as math and science teachers, we began exploring the local craft beer scene. Some of our favorite spots to hang out and grab a beer nearby were in pods of food trucks. We love that these set ups provide a space to meet in groups where everybody can find something they want to eat and drink without having to choose a single restaurant or bar.
One day, Dustin just looked at me and said, “what if we did something like this?” After talking with some family and friends, we saw an opportunity in our hometown of Orlando for this business model. Food trucks are very popular in Orlando, but they had nothing here like the food pods we frequented in Oregon. We felt that we could finally make craft beer a full-time career for ourselves, while building a collaborative enterprise with other small business owners. After some careful consideration, we quit our jobs, sold our house, and went all in on this business idea. In November of 2018, we opened À La Cart in Orlando’s Milk District.
Clover: Congrats! How did you identify other merchants to join you in this endeavor?
Williams: Cuisine exclusivity was our first priority in choosing vendors. We didn’t want overlapping vendors that provided the same type of food. Who benefits from having two taco trucks in the same pod?
We also were very selective in choosing vendors that were team players. We work long hours in tight quarters, so there is a friendship that has grown over time.
Though Dustin and I are technically landlords, we view the relationship with our vendors as a collaborative one. We have curated our pod to comprise exclusively mom-and-pop, small-business food trucks, and we are really proud of the team we’ve put together!
Clover: Tell me more about the offerings at À La Cart Orlando!
Williams: Dustin and I sell craft beer, though we do not brew it ourselves. From our own experience with beer, we’ve noted that some of our favorite products don’t necessarily come in kegs, and we didn’t want that to limit our menu. So we sell beer both on tap and in cans to expand our offerings.
Our love of travel informs the wide range of foods and drinks that À La Cart offers. The team of merchants at À La Cart likes to collaborate to create themes for seasonal events. Last fall, each truck made a German dish for Oktoberfest, adding their own unique spin to a traditional recipe. One of our merchants, Ian Russell, runs Smoke & Donuts, a ridiculously good barbecue truck. For this event, he created his take on German Käsespätzle—a dish that some claim to be the inspiration for mac and cheese—with a homemade egg noodle, fontina cheese, fried onions, topped with brisket or pulled pork. It was so indulgent and full of flavor!
Another vendor, Dulce Pecado, specializes in waffles and milkshakes. Chef Walter, whose father is from Germany, made Black Forest milkshakes with a slice of black forest cake on top.
Clover: How did you decide to use Clover as your point-of-sale system?
Williams: I analyzed my choices for POS systems, put on my math teacher hat, used some algebra, and plotted lines on a graph. Based on the number of estimated transactions and the amount of each transaction, we projected that—on both a daily and monthly basis—the break-even point would be in our favor if we went with Clover.
Our vendors each use their own POS setup in their trucks, but we use Clover as our main point of sale in the store. I have the Clover Go, too, which has really come in handy as a line buster on big nights when we’re really busy. We’re a pretty small venue, so we don’t constantly need two points of sale. But having a handheld device available always helps.
Clover: What features of Clover have the most value for you?
Williams: We recently decided to start a Beer Club at À La Cart. The Memberships app allows us to create a monthly subscription and set up automatic payments. That was great news for us because I didn’t want to be responsible for the liability of holding all of that data.
When the pandemic first arrived, we knew we’d have to embrace an online ordering model in order to stay open. Clover Online Ordering helped us roll that out quickly and safely to allow for curbside pick-up, for which we are very grateful.
Clover: We’re happy to help! What else has changed about À La Cart Orlando in the era of COVID-19?
Williams: First of all, we believe in keeping everybody as safe as possible. We continually remind customers that all À La Cart food offerings can be taken to-go. Online ordering covers everything we sell, including beer. Having the online ordering system has opened a new revenue stream for us, which has helped us stay afloat.
In order to facilitate social distancing, we’ve expanded our outdoor seating options with some new picnic tables and astroturf. We want to be able to accommodate as many customers as possible for on-site dining within our limited space, so we’re working on creative ways to maximize occupancy while maintaining social distancing.
When we came to Orlando, we’re extremely lucky to have chosen a location with an open-air set up. Our storefront has never had A/C, and some people in central Florida told us we were crazy, but it has made À La Cart feel much safer with regards to Covid transmission.
Clover: What do you see for À La Cart Orlando moving forward?
Williams: What’s been so wonderful about this project is that we have built our business into a place we really want to hang out! We’ve found that the appeal extends from kids all the way to people in their 70s and 80s; multigenerational families and friends come together at À La Cart. Our two years in business have shown us the potential in our business as a community space.
We used to have an outdoor movie screening every Monday night that we put on hold during the pandemic. We were able to bring back regular trivia nights on Tuesdays, though. I was nervous to do so, but we worked with our host and he ensures everyone playing stays seated and spread out, so I feel good about it. It’s great to get back to community events in our space.
That’s really what we feel that we are—a place for the community to come together. We miss it. We look forward to bringing more of it back. And as soon as we can do so, we will.
Read more of our Meet the Merchant stories for real-life experiences of small businesses in action all over the country.