As a five or six-year-old boy, he helped his mom in the kitchen. As a kid, he joked about owning a burger restaurant. Fast forward to Nashville, 2013. Dallas Shaw, alumnus of Freed-Hardeman University and former AT&T employee, now owns and operates Hoss’ Loaded Burgers, a successful food truck business in Music City.
Jumping off the corporate ladder he had been climbing rather successfully, Shaw decided to return to that early dream. The decision was not quite so radical as it might seem to the casual observer. “I always enjoyed cooking as I was growing up,” he said, “so I knew eventually I would end up cooking in some form.” He had considered attending culinary school when he graduated from high school but his parents had convinced him to get a college degree, “just in case” cooking didn’t work out. So he completed a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Master of Business Administration at FHU, moved to Nashville and began to work in large business sales at AT&T.
Although he did well and enjoyed working with his colleagues, he knew he “was meant for something more,” he said. His thoughts returned to the food business, and he looked into opening a restaurant. Finding he did not have the funds necessary for that undertaking, he came up with the idea of a food truck. “They were smaller, therefore
less expensive, I would only be open when people are eating, and I could still show my cooking talents through a unique menu that I could control,” he said. “It was the perfect opportunity.”
Family and friends supported his venture—with some reservations. “Those closest to me knew I had the organizational skills and management skills, and they had tasted my cooking,” he said, “so they knew I could cook.” There was still some hesitation, he said, “because most of them had never eaten from, much less seen, a food truck in person.” His father, while positive, wanted to make sure Shaw knew what he was getting into before he started.
Entrepreneurship, apparently, is in Shaw’s genes. His great-grandfather, grandfather and father had all started their own businesses. “I knew, even as I was growing up, that one day I would be an entrepreneur and continue the tradition,” he said.
Throughout his high school and college years, Shaw worked at multiple restaurant jobs: prepping food, managing the kitchen, bussing the tables and serving. “So, I had the food background, but it wasn’t until finishing my BBA and MBA at FHU that I really knew I had the business acumen I needed to successfully start and maintain my own business,” he said.
Come August 2010, Hoss’ Loaded Burgers entered the streets of Nashville. The name came from a series of names his father had been called as a teenager. “According to my father, his boss couldn’t remember his name so he started calling him ‘Hoss,’ ‘Lad,’ or ‘Boy.’ Somehow my Dad called me ‘Hoss Lad Boy,’ ‘HLB,’ or sometimes simply ‘Hoss.’ I knew I wanted to use the acronym HLB in some way and when I came up with the idea to stuff my burgers, or ‘load’ them, I knew the name of my business would be Hoss’ Loaded Burgers,” Shaw explained.
He had developed the recipes by trying different flavors of sauces and various toppings and cheeses until he found the exact flavor profile he was looking for. “When I first started putting my menu together,” he said, “Dana and I ate a lot of burgers.” Today, he rotates 13 different burgers on and off the menu.
Currently, the menu lists four burgers, each one-third pound, grass-fed beef or vegan soy patty stuffed with provolone or cheddar and topped with a sauce special to that sandwich. The burgers: The Big Easy, The Big Kahuna, The Hoss and The Old Timer sell for $7 or $8 each. He also serves Parmesan or Cajun fries and Pepsi, water, Mexican soda and root beer.
Hoss’ Loaded Burgers typically serves Tuesday-Saturday at various locations. Mondays are devoted to deep cleaning the truck, buying groceries and making sure everything is ready for the week. Sunday afternoons see him answering emails, planning the week and posting the schedule.
All of this makes for more than a sixty-hour work week. “But, I enjoy it,” Shaw said, “so it’s not really work. I once heard that ‘the key to a great job is find something you love to do, and then find someone who will pay you to do it.’ That’s what I’ve done.”
Recognition came early and often. Only two months after getting started, he received an email from Food Network. A month later, they were in Nashville taping a show. Since then, he has been featured in a promotion for the television show “Hotel Impossible,” in “Nashville Business Journal,” and in numerous periodicals and TV news segments.
Moving from the corporate world to entrepreneurship, Shaw did not expect to work fewer hours and make more money, he said. As an AT&T employee, he had set hours, was paid well, and when he left the office, work was over. “But,” he said, “I was helping to build someone else’s business. Now, I’m building something I own. Everything I do profits my business and my dream. My days are longer, I have more responsibility/stress, and I make considerably less income...but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Shaw entered the food truck business when it was relatively new in Nashville. Since that time 30-40 other trucks have opened and more come out every month, according to Shaw. “Nashville has really accepted food trucks,” he said. He serves as the vice president of the Nashville Food Truck Association, a group that speaks for the industry with local government and officials.
Unsure of exactly how he will continue to grow his business, Shaw says he has “a few ideas.” “For now, I’m satisfied with what I have,” he said. “I’ll keep trucking along and making the best burgers in Nashville.”