The Lucky Fig Heads North
Masterchef winner who shut down his acclaimed food truck gets a new lease on life
A Houston food truck is getting a new start thanks to a Dallas-based investment group that will take the business in a new direction.
Masterchef season 4 winner Luca Manfé thought his decision to close The Lucky Fig in December meant it was off the streets for good, but a new partnership with CultureMap investor Alex Muse’s Sumo Ventures investment fund has given the business a new opportunity in Dallas.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Manfé tells CultureMap. “I had no idea what to do with the truck. Even if I still believed in the concept, I wasn’t quite brave enough to take it somewhere. Alex comes on board. He sounds really confident.”
Manfé brought a chef's approach to The Lucky Fig's menu. The truck baked its own ciabatta bread for sandwiches filled with braised short ribs and vegetables sourced from local farms and ranches. Dishes like arancini earned raves from diners and critics, but the truck suffered from some issues. Houston's hot and stormy client means that a truck can lose days of sales due to rain.
While Manfé's food may be restaurant-quality, diners seem to prefer more accessible fare when they patronize a truck. After all, the trucks that have made the leap to brick and mortar restaurants are those that serve popular items like burgers, hot dogs, pizza, and Chinese take-out.
"Most likely I’ll never know what the real mistakes were," Manfé says. "If it was the areas I went or if the concept was completely wrong. Maybe it should have been more street food and not too Italian focused." Later he adds, "I’m happy because I gained a lot. We may have lost some money, but money comes and goes."
The truck's new direction addresses those issues and plays to Manfé's strengths. Rather than trying to operate The Lucky Fig as a mobile restaurant that serves on the street every day, Muse, a self-described Masterchef fan who says he became interested in the truck after reading about it on CultureMap, intends to utilize the truck for motivational speaking and team building events pitched to the Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies in the Dallas-area. Essentially, Manfé will speak about his immigrant story and victory on Masterchef, then everyone gets to eat lunch prepared on the truck.
“I’ve never wanted to invest in a restaurant for a million reasons. This appealed to me that it wasn’t a restaurant but it was a food concept,” Muse says. “You’re selling an event, kind of a happening that’s centered around food. Love the idea of a culinary event type business.”
Under the new business model, The Lucky Fig can pop-up on the streets from time to time — Muse says his kids will work on it for a week this summer — but doing so becomes an opportunity for building brand awareness rather than a necessary means of generating revenue. So far, Muse says he’s already spoken to corporate event planners and lined up 10 events for the truck. Manfé will be ready to roll as soon as the truck receives all of its permits, a process that’s been a bit of an eye-opener for Muse.
“I saw the movie Chef. I loved that movie,” Muse says. “If you actually know anything about getting permits, those guys could never have done that. It would have taken forever.”
For Manfé, the benefits are significant. He retains full control of the truck's menu and remains the face of the brand he launched. "The Lucky Fig didn’t die. It just had a hiccup," the chef says.
Manfé adds that he’s excited about the fresh start and the chance to continue to realize his dream of opening a restaurant. For now, that journey is taking him to Dallas, but he says he still believes in the Bayou City, even if the truck concept didn’t catch on the way he planned.
“My confidence in Houston has not changed,” Manfé says. “It already is one of the best food cities in the world.”