We had the good fortune of connecting with Anna Winger and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Anna, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
We had zero balance our first couple of years in the food truck. We thought we’d open up with Evan and I running it by ourselves. I would be in the window and Evan would cook the food. That lasted about 48 hours before I was in tears and Evan was trying to keep his girlfriend and his business intact. Friends saved our butts, and we hired on a few employees. With zero business classes between the two of us, we had no idea how much of a payroll we could handle, and my “Make a Free Business Plan” online didn’t really give us any magic answers, so we kept working doubles every day all day that first Summer. Like many mountain folk, we were pretty accustomed to playing after working. I had worked on the river for 15 years and didn’t see a wave those first couple of. years. We saw the food truck, the bottom of a beer after each day, and our pillows. I don’t really regret that path. We built the Viking exactly how we wanted it to be, through a lot of trial and error, grit, and the inability to watch it fail. But it’s no way to live. I think it’s pretty obvious when life is out of balance. You feel it in your jaw and your shoulders. You have a monkey brain, and the lack of separation of business from self may be necessary for a bit to create, but it’s not sustainable. I believe that’s why a lot of restaurants fail. It’s unrelenting and if you don’t get a handle on it, you will burn out. I know we wouldn’t still be here as a couple or a business had we kept going at that pace. We find balance now through our staff, our systems we have in place, and personal boundaries. My personal goal this season is to be less reactive. Our literal blood, sweat, and tears built this business, and I’d be lying if I said we have this totally figured out, but moving forward as a family, it’s a non-negotionable. If that starts falling apart, I’ll close up shop and get a day job. That committment makes us work really hard on making this work, because we want it to! It’s been a process of letting go, but we hire badass people that we trust. It’s cool to see them take some ownership in the truck, and it gets better every year. (Except COVID year and a June newborn, that year was really hard). Bring on 2021! Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
If you would’ve asked me at any point in my life what I’d be doing in my 30s, the last thing I’d say was running a food truck. It was never on a list of possible careers for myself. When we were approached by the Deerhammer Distillery for the opportunity to be on their patio in 2017, for some reason we just went for it. Evan and I have a way of instinctually being on the same page at junctures in life. It’s one of my favorite things about us. He was transitioning out of managing The Deerhammer Distillery, and I was pretty desperate for a break from teaching middle school. Evan went to culinary school in Montana and had a long resume of kitchen work, and I had been in front of house positions for most of my adult life. Outside of that, we didn’t know a thing about starting a business. We bought the food truck off of Craigslist in Oklahoma, borrowed a truck to bring it back to Buena Vista, and that was that! The plan was for Evan and I to be in the truck, maybe a friend or two would help out when needed. That lasted about 2 days before we were in over our heads. That first summer was 90-100 hour weeks and a lot of asking people to walk our dog, Boone. It was such a team effort. Lenny from the Deerhammer made our first logo, a friend wrapped the truck for trade, our friends were constantly popping in to see how they could help. I think a huge portion of our success was our community, Buena Vista has changed a lot in the past 5 years, it’s growing like everywhere else in Colorado. In 2017, there was such a core group of people excited to make Buena Vista as cool as it could be, and they were so pumped to support us. Those early season patio nights with our town will forever be some of our favorite. Fast forward 5 years and we’re about to start our 5th season. Local season is way shorter, and we have a respectable line most days. It has been the hardest journey we’ve ever been on, both personally and professionally. Food service is mean. You can serve someone a perfect dish 100 times, and one time it’s a bit off, you might lose a customer. It’s brutal for us sometimes, as we both identity as perfectionists. These days we have a full staff, more of an idea of where we’re headed and at the same time no idea about where we’re headed. I think that known and unknown drive us to build something wilder than we ever imagined. We had a few core beliefs going into this business, one was consistency. So many food trucks are closed some days, open some days, run out of food, etc. It’s a nature of the business. We wanted a consistent product with consistent hours. Evan is an amazing chef, and would run a pretty sweet bistro, but we decided to stick with a simple product and to do it really right. The specifics that go into building our burgers are lengthy. In the beginning there were plenty of fights about him micro-managing my tomato cutting, and now I feel the same way about tomatoes. We care A LOT about every burger that goes out our window. We’re proud of our product. Outside of freak May snowstorms and the birth of our son last June, we stick to our hours, we never close early, and we aim for your experience to be better than you expected. We’ve learned so much up until this point. We manage a full staff, a few that have been with us for years, and we think of them as family. We have their backs and they have ours. We work hard to show them our passion for the product and the intrinsic motivation to not slack. We believe in a work life balance and try to give everyone that. The Arkansas Valley is such an amazing place, and we want our employees to live a life outside of work, which is sometimes hard to do in the grind of a BV Summer. We’ve learned that Evan and I are an amazing team. We were dating when we began this journey and now we’re married with a son. We have created very strong boundaries and prioritize ourselves, our relationship, and our family way more than we did the first few years of the Viking (constantly working on this goal). At this point, these are the ways we’ve found to make this life sustainable. We’re so happy about what we’ve built with our amazing team. We are excited to see what’s next, and mostly we feel so lucky to be making this happen in a dream of a community. Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Basically it would be a week of eating, drinking and playing. We would soak at Mt. Princeton one day- sipping on spiked smoothies, maybe get a massage. I’d take them rafting in a raft rented from Colorado Kayak Supply down Brown’s Canyon, with a stop at River Runners Bar and Grill for a quick fish taco and marg on the way into the canyon. We’d bike on the Midland Trails and come back for a cold beer at Push and Pull and The Jailhouse. We’d eat an amazing dinner at Wesley and Rose, sitting outside right by the river, and then head over to Eddyline for a nightcap beer. Each morning we’d grab a coffee at either The Roastery or The Blend. By then we’d be exhausted and need a night in, so we’d grab food to go from either The Asian Palate Market or Spark Provisions. Both are one-stop shops for an exquisite take-home meal, complete with wine and beer choices and dessert. We’d hike Shavano one day, and probably Ptarmigan Lake on another, with Sorelle sandwiches in our packs. I’d force them to eat at least 3 Viking burgers and at least 6 Deerhammer cocktails while they fold our burger holders. Then I’d send them home a bit stronger, a bit heavier, and most definitetly happier. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shout outs: My husband and head chef, Evan Amy and Lenny at The Deerhammer for giving us a chance and patio space All the team members that have sweated, screamed, and laughed in the truck Our community of business owners that we’ve learned so much from over the years All the burger eaters
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