When they put their food truck on the road in 2011, Chris Kese and Chio Burga were on a mission to bring Peruvian food to the people of San Francisco — one serving of lomo saltado (marinated flat iron steak) or cebiche (lightly marinated fresh fish) at a time.

“Most of our customers have never had Peruvian food before,” said Chris. “We’re excited to open a whole new world to them.”

Not long after they started to make their mark on the food truck scene, however, a request from a fan at Facebook inspired Lima-Peruvian Food to make a huge pivot.

“They asked if we wanted to cater an employee party,” Chris said. “That was our first taste of corporate catering, and it just went from there.”

Bringing the taste of Peru to California

The husband-and-wife team behind Lima-Peruvian Food met nearly 12 years ago. Chris, a Seattle native, met Chio, who lived in Lima, while both were traveling in Ecuador.

Chris confesses that he wasn’t even there for the food; he wrote his University of Washington thesis on Peruvian history in the mountains of Peru. But, he says, there’s a gastronomic boom in Peru that inspired him to jump into culinary school.

“Peruvian culture has developed over hundreds of years,” Chio said. Immigration and other factors have brought people from Asia, Europe and Africa, and “that diversity shows in our food.”

Chris returned to the U.S. with Chio when the restaurant he worked for in Lima, La Mar Cebicheria, opened a sister restaurant in San Francisco. Eventually, however, they decided to go out on their own.

How did they pivot so quickly and successfully? Chris and Chio are happy to share their experience!

Get support from the community

“The Peruvian community [in San Francisco] is pretty small; there are about seven restaurants!” Chris said. “Everybody knows each other and it’s very supportive; we’re pretty open about what we do. We just want to get more people eating Peruvian.”

Find good partners to help transition

As many people who work in the Bay Area know, lunch catering can be a wonderful perk. Partnering with services like ZeroCater and Cater2.me has helped put Lima-Peruvian Food deliveries into the headquarters of companies like GitHub, Pinterest and Lucasfilm.

Accept that pivoting brings changes

While they love catering, Chris and Chio miss the direct interaction.

“It’s harder to get feedback when you’re catering, and I think people think about their food more when they pay for it themselves,” Chris said. “When it shows up in your office, you eat and go; you don’t really think about where it came from.”

Even with instant feedback, however, Chris notes that the food truck business was unpredictable. “We tried to prepare according to the weather, but we often made too much or too little. Now we know exactly what we need, everything is fresh and nothing goes to waste.”

Delight your customers by being flexible

With their current structure in place, they still have the flexibility to serve their customers. “Being lean gives us the ability to adapt, which is huge — that’s how we got into catering in the first place,” Chris said.

They recently delivered to an office that had a Peruvian employee; she asked if they could make something special for her. “She didn’t want something fancy, just traditional — and we were able to bring it to her,” Chio said. “I think it made her happy and we were happy to do it!”

Set a pace that’s right for your business

The very first idea Chris and Chio had was to open a restaurant. “I think that’s very hard when you have no experience and are just starting out,” said Chio. Instead, they compare the growth of their business to building a house: they’re now confident they have a solid foundation.

“The food truck was a great learning experience. Now we do catering, and we’re looking ahead to both grow the catering business — because we know there’s demand — and open a brick and mortar location. We’re ready for that,” Chio explained.

Find tools that make your work easier

Operations at Lima-Peruvian Food are pretty streamlined: Chris oversees food, with help from two other staff, while Chio looks after the marketing and business administration.

“We constantly talk to our employees about not getting stuck in habits and trying new things from day to day; this helps us find the best way to do things, and we can build on that.”

Looking ahead to what the next couple of years may bring, they’ve started looking at new ways to manage their back-office — like setting up Gusto.

“We don’t use tech because it’s there; we use it because it’s more efficient,” Chris said.

“Gusto is just so well-thought-out,” said Chio. “We can access all of our forms there and love that we’re also getting reminders all the time. I also really like the extra details, like being told about employee birthdays.”

Lima-Peruvian has also started using a service called Sourcery, which helps them organize all their vendors and ordering.

“We started from scratch and at the beginning, it was hard. Tools like Gusto help us feel more confident about our business, and that helps our employees feel more confident too.”

We’re honored to be part of Chris and Chio’s journey, and want to send out a big thank you to them for sharing their story with us!

Margot Leong Margot Leong, a contributing author on Gusto, provides actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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