Mitchell, who once owned a downtown Aiken restaurant, has taken the dining experience on the road with The Deli Cart, a renovated trailer he parks outside Aiken businesses and events to serve Reubens, pastramis and other New England-style deli sandwiches to hungry customers.
“It’s a little more fun doing work in a food truck,” the 29-year-old said.
Mitchell cultivated his entrepreneurial spirit at New England College where he and roommate Steve Gonzalez created several start-up businesses and formulated a concept that would lead to their first business in Aiken: a virtual business card company.
“We were always spinning ideas and doing things together,” said Gonzalez, who was Mitchell’s best man in his wedding last month.
After graduating with a business administration degree in 2006, Mitchell took a reporting position at a newspaper in his hometown of Gilford, N.H. He and Gonzalez spent the next two years building capital for their business idea and decided to move to Aiken for better financing opportunities. Mitchell’s parents and brother had previously moved to the area.
Timing was not on the friends’ side as the launch of their business card enterprise, SpartX, coincided with the early phases of the recession in 2008.
“We tried to solve the problem of online networking,” Mitchell said. “It was actually a really good product.”
When Mitchell and Gonzalez shut down the company in late 2009, the New England native went back to what he knows – the food and beverage industry.
At age 13, Mitchell’s first job was packaging burgers on weekends and summer break at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and he spent much of his collegiate career working in a pizza place.
“The irony of it was the reason I was doing it was so I wouldn’t have to do something like that for the rest of my life,” Mitchell said of working at a restaurant in college. “Then, obviously, I ended up doing restaurant and food service.”
By April 2010, Mitchell, brother Hayes and another friend had opened Ryan’s Downtown Market & Deli on Laurens Street in downtown Aiken. Mitchell originally envisioned they could bring a neighborhood butcher shop to Aiken, but the business morphed into a sandwich establishment.
About a year ago, Mitchell got an idea to go directly to his customers with The Deli Cart.
“There’s people that have a lot of ideas, and then there’s people who actually execute,” said Gonzalez, who now lives in San Francisco. “He has the combination of both.”
Mitchell closed his restaurant in July after three years in business to focus on the mobile food operation. Running the cart has cut his time at work in half and gives him more time to spend with his young children.
Through the restaurant and food cart, Mitchell feels he’s keeping his family history alive. His great-grandfather owned a food market in Milton, Vt., in the 1920s, and his great-great grandfather ran a meat cart.
Mitchell, like his ancestors, can appreciate doing business in a quaint community.
“That’s one thing I like about owning a business in a small town,” he said. “It’s very supportive and close-knit. People are always willing to help you, and you’re always able to hopefully return the favor.”