Jeff Green’s a motivated guy.
Watching his grandfather run a corner store motivated him to go into business for himself. It started in 2014 as a small venture selling candy and snacks from a van and progressed in 2015 to peddling candy and ice cream from a gleaming food truck.
Green, a 24-year-old Washington Park native who now lives in Belleville, is on the verge of taking his business to the next level: A physical location that will offer gourmet sweets, ice cream and hot dishes like ‘The Hell Yeah’ nacho platter and chicken bacon ranch fries.
Green took over the old Taco Bell location at 4004 W. Main St. in Belleville. The building is now bright red and there’s a tasty dessert-themed mural on the building’s west facade. He said he owes his success to hard work, patience and his parents keeping him in church.
Keep your eyes peeled because Green will have a soft opening at the location any day.
Q: What gave you the idea to operate a food truck?
A: “The idea came from my grandfather. He had a corner candy store back when a Snickers was 25 cents. I grew up watching that. My grandfather was from Jackson, Mississippi. Never got past the eighth grade. Never went to college. To grow up and see him do the things that he did, it motivated me. I wanted to do something for myself. So I bought an old heating and cooling van. Took all my savings and put them into it. I started out selling candy out of a van. But in my mind the whole time was, ‘I want a store.’”
Q: Did you have any financial help getting started?
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A: “My grandfather always told me to work for myself, never go into unnecessary debt, try to go about life debt free, keep your credit clean. So I went about it the slow way: Owned everything, bought everything out of my pocket. Save, save, save. I was open for business in the van on July 4, 2014. By Christmas I upgraded to the truck, all from saving. No small business loans, no nothing. Just getting out, working hard every day.”
Q: How did your business change once you upgraded to the bigger truck?
A: “I found out not everybody likes candy. I started thinking of ways to incorporate food. We started off with a simple hot dog and nachos. Since we’re ‘The Sweet Tooth,’ I named it ‘the cavity.’ I made some friends on the East and West Coasts — food trucks are big out there. And we just started forming a gourmet menu. It went from candy to gourmet food. I opened up (the food truck) on the first day of the Cardinals’ 2015 season.”
Q: How was that first day?
A: “I got out there downtown thinking I was going to make good money. I invested $12,000-15,000 in this truck. Opening Day I only made about $200. I felt like crap for a good week. And I just kept at it. I told myself, ‘You know what? You can’t give up.’ If I pull out the truck and only make $50, that’s $50 more than I had. I kept the creative juices flowing. And today we have a big fan base.”
Q: How is The Sweet Tooth different from other eateries?
A: “It’s bringing something to Belleville that’s not here. You can go get barbecue, chicken and fish at 20 different places in Belleville. But you can’t go anywhere and get what we have. We just want to bring something new to the city. And hopefully we make a difference.”
Q: What’s most exciting about being able to open the store?
A: “Sharing the vision, sharing my ideas with the public. I get excited about seeing it come to life in my hands, about being an employer helping people find work. We’ll probably have 10 to 12 employees rotating shifts. We have some L’Ecole Culinaire students coming in; we’re going to give them a chance. I’m excited about bringing a new flavor and a new feel. It’s not just going to be something to eat. It’s going to be an experience.”
Q: Any advice for young entrepreneurs?
A: “Be patient. Research your region. Find what’s missing. And surround yourself with like-minded people. Sit and listen. Another thing I’d say is don’t be afraid to fail. You can bump your head 10 different times in 10 different places, and you still can learn 10 different things. Be willing to learn and keep an open ear.”
Job: Owner of The Sweet Tooth, 4004 W. Main St. in Belleville
How he does it: “I’m guessing God favors hard work. I’m a hard worker.”