Darren Warth wanted the new 2015 Chevrolet City Express cargo van for his barbecue catering fleet before it was even available at his local dealer.
“We called our local Chevrolet dealer and they didn’t know a lot about the City Express van,” says Warth, owner and founder of Des Moines-based Smokey D’s BBQ. “We placed the order for four vans before they were even in stock. We bought them before we even test-drove them.”
In their second month as part of Smokey D’s fleet, the City Express vans have been a good fit so far.
“The biggest selling point for us was the City Express’ smaller physical footprint and larger cargo capacity,” says Warth. “The City Express vans have a taller roof and more height for stacking compared to our old Dodge Caravan cargo vans.”
Starting the company in 2006 from a trailer parked in their driveway, Darren and his wife Sherry began to get more requests for catering their barbecue meats after winning several awards on the competition barbecue circuit. “While working full-time jobs, we did over $100,000 in sales out of the driveway in the first year,” says Warth.
In 2008, Darren and Sherry partnered with a local chef and his wife and opened their first carryout barbecue and catering operation in downtown Des Moines. Two years later, they opened a 400-seat restaurant on the north side of Des Moines.
Today, Smokey D’s has three locations (two downtown Des Moines locations and one on the north side of town) and six fleet vehicles for catering. This barbecue chain has been featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and has won numerous barbecue awards, including first place in Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue and the King of the Smoker Invitational.
With drop-off catering making up 90% of Smokey D’s business, Warth refers to his vehicles as his catering vans. During a typical workday, most orders are for business meeting lunches.
“We show up at the office and drop off the food,” says Warth. “We are usually in and out of an office in about five minutes. We can do anywhere from five to 25 drop-offs for lunch depending on the day and the season.”
In January, Warth replaced his four Dodge Caravan cargo vans with new Chevrolet City Express vans. Making catering deliveries within the Des Moines metro area, Warth’s fleet vehicles (now made up of two full-size Chevrolet Express vans and four City Express vans) usually average 12,000 to 15,000 miles per year.
“We chose the City Express vans since we have been happy with the Chevy Express full-size vans,” says Warth. “We bought all the vans through the same dealer, Karl Chevrolet. Their service has been really good for us. We have a relationship with them and trust them.”
Compared to the Dodge Caravan, the City Express van has a taller roof, which helps when stacking hot boxes. “We really don’t upfit the vans,” says Warth. “When we are delivering, we load each van with hot boxes to transport the food, bread racks, serving utensils, barbecue sauce and a cart to bring in the food.”
Additionally, the smaller City Express vans help make deliveries downtown easier, especially when trying to park in tight parking spots. The doors on both sides also provide more flexibility when unloading the vans, according to Warth. “Sometimes when parking, we don’t have access to one side of the door. Having doors on both sides allows us the flexibility to unload from both sides.”
The larger Express vans come in handy for catering large events, such as weddings, or feeding the Iowa State football team. “If we are feeding 250 to 300 people for a wedding, we would take a full-size van to fit six or seven hot boxes, 10 bread racks as well as carts,” says Warth.