Launched in 2014 by Marvin and Mary Anne Reyes, Izzy’s Cheesesteaks was created with the single-minded goal of introducing great tasting Philly-style cheesesteaks to Bay Area diners — and if the long queues at their regular stops in Lake Merritt, Foster City, Fort Mason Center and beyond are any indication, they’ve hit on a winning recipe.
A true family affair from the start, owners Marvin and Mary Anne named their business after their eldest daughter, Izzy. It’s this same commitment to family that keeps them dead set on using only the best ingredients for their loaded cheesesteaks — from their 100 percent sliced ribeye, sweet peppers and provolone to their authentic Amoroso rolls shipped in from Philadelphia.
Of course, they wouldn’t be a Bay Area favorite without creative additions like their ‘muy bueno’ cheesesteak topped with cilantro cotija crema, their Hawaiian-stye ‘loco moco’ with gravy and a fried egg, and their vegetarian-friendly ‘quin-what’ with quinoa, beans and two types of cheese.
While four years in the fast-paced mobile food industry lands them firmly in veteran territory, the couple started from scratch with no experience navigating its complicated waters. But whatever they lacked in knowledge, they made up for in grit, determination and an impassioned commitment to bring something new to the Bay Area — and to take their family along for the ride.
Tell us about your business and how you got started in the industry.
Prior to getting into the mobile food industry, we’d always had an appreciation for a good cheesesteak. We made a point of eating as many as possible — some were good and some were bad, but altogether the options were far and few between. What we wanted to do with Izzy’s is take something that we personally loved to eat and bring it to the masses for everyone to appreciate.
Your business is named after your daughter! How has running a business shaped your family — or changed the way you think about business?
Because our business was a family affair from the beginning, we felt that using our daughter’s name would give the business a more “mom and pop” vibe. It’s the feeling we want to express to everyone who tries our cheesesteaks, and the same mentality that drives us to only use the best ingredients — just like you would want for your own family.
What defines your long-term success? Expansion? Work/life balance?
As far as expansion goes, in the near future we’re planning to either add a second truck or open a brick and mortar location of Izzy’s Cheesesteaks.
When it comes to work/life balance, it’s a very high tightrope walk we’re doing right now. With three kids — Izzy (9), Isaac (3), and Isla (1) — as well as a food truck, a regular day job, and at times a pop-up concept, there are days when we really don’t know how we do it all. But we try to carve out times that are sacred for us to be together as a family, which is usually after five o’clock on the weekdays and one day on the weekend if possible!
What’s the biggest obstacle to your business’ success?
The biggest obstacle we’ve encountered as mobile food business owners is getting our food out to the masses. Working with Off the Grid has allowed us to do that by being part of their markets all over the Bay Area.
Marvin and Mary Anne in front of their pop-up concept, Flying Saucers, at Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center.
Have you had an experience where your food played a role in building community or bringing people together?
Something we like to do with Izzy’s is volunteer the truck for causes we’re passionate about. For example, we went to GLIDE Memorial Church in San Francisco and donated over 1,000 cheesesteaks to people who are less fortunate so they could have a warm meal during the Christmas season.
Another thing we like to do is support local schools. By participating in things like silent auctions where we don’t need the truck to be physically present, we’ve helped raise over $8,000 to support various initiatives within the past couple years.
What advice would you offer to someone just starting out in the mobile food business?
Research, research, research. And get ready for the grind. We didn’t know where to begin, so Google was our friend for everything. You’re going to need to find people and places that can build your equipment or truck, places to buy supplies, and if you’re starting from scratch — like we did — learn all the basics of starting a mobile food business. The resources are all there. You just have to be diligent, and not give up. Ask other mobile food business owners in your area for advice, too. They’re usually pretty nice.
Also, look for a good team. This is invaluable because of the business we’re in. There’s a lot of turnover in the industry so if you find those diamonds in the rough, make sure that you teach them well, treat them right, and let them shine!
What excites you most about the mobile food industry and where it’s headed?
Living in the Bay Area, you’re really exposed to a melting pot of some of the best ideas around. Along with getting to create food that people want and crave, it’s a place to experiment with new and crazy ideas in a way that only a strong, collaborative mobile food industry can support.