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Idealog's Most Creative: The Lucky Taco's Otis and Sarah Frizzell

Idealog's Most Creative: The Lucky Taco's Otis and Sarah Frizzell

The Lucky Taco's Otis and Sarah Frizzell were one of the People's Choice winners for the food/beverage category in Idealog and Accenture's Most Creative People. The Frizzells were in pretty early on the food truck trend with the ever-popular Lucky Taco, but they’ve taken it one creative step further than most, while their artistic skills are obvious in its range of Mexican products in supermarkets. Here, they talk inspiration, grit and turning your creative passion into a business. 

What does creativity mean to you?

Creativity happens when you’re in the moment and unafraid. I think when you’re following your own path. Sometimes that can be challenging when you need to pair it with actually making money – to make your business sustainable.

What do you think it is about your nature/habits/interests that makes you creative?

Curiosity. A desire to keep finding out what’s behind the wall. Food/art/music – they’re all intrinsically linked.

What first drew you to your chosen field?

A love for all things food and feeding people. When someone rolls their eyes with pleasure when they eat something you’ve created – that’s just the best feeling. It satisfies your soul. Otis’s background in art (and mine in design and art direction), we try to also portray that in our food. Every taco we make is just like an edible little art piece (albeit very short-lived).

What was your upbringing like, and how do you think that led you to where you are today?

The joke is that I do not come from a culinary background. The typical northern English diet of fish fingers and chips and packet chicken chasseur. But I had a good upbringing. Otis’s mum – Jude was (and still is) a great cook. She was growing garlic and exotic herbs in New Zealand before you could buy it in supermarkets. When I met Otis and emigrated to New Zealand, my passion for food (growing it) and cooking developed quite quickly and obsessively. My nose was always in a cook book or magazine. And I adore chillies, citrus and salt. So naturally, I must have been Mexican in a past life.

Where do your best ideas come from?

Just like the Master Chef ‘Mystery Box Challenge’, I always find it inspiring to create something using only the ingredients you have in the pantry/fridge/leftover. It gives you a definitive brief in which to work with, and to be creative using just the ingredients you have. And I HATE wasted food. So using everything up – even broccoli stems makes me happy.

What does inspiration look like for you?

It looks like truffle oil brie, crispy bits of bacon, fresh chilli, fresh lemon & elbow pasta. And tacos.

Is there an ethos/motto you abide by in your work?

Just keep getting better. Consistency with your flavours/standards. It’s your IP. You’re only as good as your last taco…

If there were a secret to success, what would it be?

Grit.

Creativity happens when you’re in the moment and unafraid.

What were some of the challenges that you faced early on? What went wrong? Any regrets?

So many things went wrong! And still do on a daily basis. Break downs on the way to a wedding. Getting stuck on dirt roads in the middle of nowhere. Seriously cutting my hand after a 9 hour back to back session in the blistering heat at Laneways Fest. Otis getting 3rd degree burns from a 4kg tub of boiling hot pulled pork (during a 400 pax service). Getting a visit from the council in our first few weeks of operation – because another eatery on Ponsonby Rd tried to shut us down. Hot plate emergencies just before service – with hungry people waiting and no food! You can’t stop things going wrong. It’s out of your control, no matter how organised you are. But you can control how you deal with the problems and fix the issues. We always try and get back to our customers as soon as we can, and make them happy. Running a food truck is hard yacka – and it’s not financially rewarding. But being face to face with your customers and integrating with your community is hugely satisfying. It’s the nucleus of our brand. It validates our foray into the retail world. Two years into the food truck scene, we raised $100K via Kickstarter to launch our #FreshMex Lucky Taco brand. Award winnng hot sauces, chilli salt, Pink Pickle and our two flavours of Taco Kits: Sizzlin’ Steak & Chipotle Chicken. It’s taken a few years of persistence and perseverance – but these products are now stocked at Farro Fresh, Moore Wilsons, Countdown Ponsonby & Greelane, New World Vic Park, Thorndon & Havelock North. Takes time to build a brand.

Do you work a lot? Do you have an obsessive part to your personality?

Yes. I am OCD. Otis makes sure I have my cup of (3 minute brew) tea every morning. Followed by power smoothie and then my Kokako home espresso. I’m pretty wired most of the time. Thank god for Netflix! I’d like more time back to enjoy with friends and family…one day. 

What’s the secret to resilience?  

I’m actually super thin-skinned & cry a lot. People are a lot stronger than they think. I have amazing support from my husband, family & friends. That’s what gets you through the tough times & gives you the strength to carry on. And all our Lucky Taco Lovers! 

What have been some of the highlights of your career?

It’s not all about winning, but when you work super hard, it feels great when it’s recognised. So winning the award for the Lewisham ‘Outstanding street food’ when it was the first time the category was created last year was a buzz. Sharing the front page of the Herald with renown chefs such as Ben Bayley felt pretty spesh. And winning gold at the NYC hot sauce Expo for our Chipotle Hot Sauce. Unfortunately we weren’t in NYC. (Still never been) – but we watched live on YouTube and screamed and danced in our living room. More than anything – just receiving a nice note or gratitude from our customers – they’re the biggest highlights.

What do you think New Zealand is like for creativity? Is there something about ‘Kiwiness’ that helps or hinders?

Everything’s possible in NZ.

What would be the advice you’d give someone who wants to turn their creative passion into a full-time gig?

Peter Gordon told me before we started The Lucky Taco that if you make food your business – just be careful it doesn’t take the romanticism out of it for you. I totally know what he means by that now. But I still love to cook. It is my escapism. And how my creative juices flow. But sometimes, you’re just too buggered to be bothered after cooking for hundreds of people. If you do what you love – just hope it all falls into place. And don’t let too many people in. Stay the path.

What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

As just mentioned above. Stay the path. We fell into the trap of being glamoured into a direction that didn’t work. It never felt right in my gut. And it didn’t work. We’re picking up the pieces of this failed venture currently. So yeah…you gotta take risks, but make sure you only let the right ones in. Would you sit and have a beer with them? That’s the litmus test right there. If people invest in you/your business – you’re stuck with them and they want returns.

Where to next? Do you have a goal you’re working towards?

I am always thinking about the ‘next thing’/creation/recipe/idea – but since we’ve just taken a considerable knock with the Lucky Street meal subscription model (and shut it down), we’re just picking up the pieces from that and stabilising ourselves with 150 percent total alignment with The Lucky Taco and working our butts off until the end of the year. Then we’re going to lie down for a week and think about our goals for 2018 over a margarita or two.

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