In a fleet of 24 vehicles, it is the blue-flame emblazoned Mopar-customized Dodge Challenger that is the pride of Texas restaurant chain Soulman’s Bar-B-Que.
“It’s quite a sight,” says Soulman’s CEO Brett Randle. “It’s a really neat vehicle – there is only 500 of those Mopars made and we have one of them.
Soulman’s Bar-B-Que was started in 1974 in the Dallas Ft. Worth area of Texas. It serves traditional Texas style barbecue and until 2008 was a mostly localized entity with four stores. Since then, the company has expanded to 15 stores in north and east Texas with plans to begin franchising in 2016. “It was a pretty small company until about eight years ago,” said Randle. “Then we started to grow at a rapid rate.”
While the Mopar Challenger serves as a rocking endorsement for Soulman’s, the rest of fleet does just as much to get the company name out there. Graphics adorn the sides of every single black truck in Soulman’s fleet, consisting of Ram 1500 pickups, two vans and a single Ford truck.
ProMaster City Switch
Aside from the food being served at each restaurant, Soulman’s also works in the catering business. Each of the four members of the catering team has their own fleet vehicle to drive to the location closest to a job and set up.
“We (cater) almost everything, but the majority would be corporate America,” said Randle. “We do a lot of weddings — we’ve done quite a few odd things too.”
The catering side alone will bring in more than $1 million this year, he says. Despite the business having fat and lean seasons, the catering team works full time to handle it and is even looking to add a fifth member. Up until now, the catering was done using Ram 1500 pickup trucks with plastic bed covers. But the covers were not always ideal for the work and Soulman’s recently purchased two Ram ProMaster City vans from a dealer.
“We have a pretty good partner in Dallas Dodge and they make us pretty good deals,” said Randle. “We’ve had good success with the brand and with the longevity of the vehicles.”
The vans are being upfitted with shelving from the dealership, allowing the catering staff to get the most of a van’s accessible interior. With all of the necessary materials readily at hand, the van provides a distinct advantage over a truck, “They won’t have to deal with the bed cover anymore which can be a hassle,” he says.
The rest of the fleet is given to corporate heads and store managers to use as daily drivers and as a “nice perk for being a tenured manager with the company.” The vehicles are taken home every night and compared with some fleets, they are low mileage. The store manager trucks accrue 20,000 miles and under per year, caterers hit 25,000 to 30,000 miles and district managers and corporate members go more than 30,000 miles.
The vehicles are kept for about 100,000 miles before being sold or traded in. Typically, the people at the top get the newest vehicles while older vehicles are handed down the chain.
“I’ll give one of my corporate guys the new vehicle and then I’ll pass that vehicle down to the store manager where they’ll put fewer miles on it,” said Randle.
Saluting Safe Truckers
For the Soulman’s fleet, maintenance is fairly simple. The company inspects its vehicles twice a year in-house, checking up on oil changes, tire rotation and balancing. If a problem arises for a vehicle, they use a vendor for maintenance.
When employees are given a vehicle, they sign an extensive vehicle safety policy that goes over violations, general safety rules, defensive driving and what procedures to follow in the event of an accident. It also includes vehicle maintenance requirements.
Soulman’s also supports the Safe Trucker Salute program that rewards safe truck drivers who have routes in Texas. Trucking company managers and human resource directors nominate drivers in their fleets for the award and the winner each month receives a $100 gift card to Soulman’s.
“Truckers love Soulman’s Bar-B-Que,” says Randle. “We have 4 different truckstop locations where we have a location that is right next to a truckstop and they absolutely love it.”
With the company growing and looking to start franchising stores, the question is inevitable of whether or not the Texas barbecue native has plans to expand out of the Lone Star State. “We haven’t made that determination yet,” he says laughing. “We’re still in the initial stages of it right now.”
Bobit Business Media has been acquired by Gemspring Capital, a middle-market private equity firm. Bobit, which bought HDT in 2012, was founded by Ed Bobit in 1961 with Automotive Fleet and today is a successful business-to-business media company in the fleet, transportation, beauty, and law enforcement industries.