Paul Landry is a foodie on the move who likes food on the move.
That’s why he found himself driving from his home near the Pittsburgh International Airport to Shadyside one evening in 2013 in pursuit of a specific food truck.
“The neighborhood I heard the truck was in was where I stayed when I attended Pitt, so I figured I’d grab dinner and then walk around for old times’ sake,” Landry, a 2001 Pitt grad, said.
But by the time he got there, the food truck he was craving was nowhere to be found.
“There was one selling cupcakes though,” Landry said. “So I had cupcakes for dinner.”
This event caused Landry, a long-time food truck lover, to consider how hard it could be to track down specific trucks because of how varied their locations and times could be.
“I started wondering, ‘Man, what if there was a way people could keep tabs on them?’” Landry said.
He reached out to his old Pitt classmate, former Radio Shack coworker and software engineer Jonathan Worek, and shared his idea for an app that did just that.
“I asked Jon because he’s an amazing software engineer,” Landry said. “I knew he had the skills I didn’t to make this thing a reality.”
This partnership — now going by the company name Worlan Software — led to the creation of Mobile Nom, an app primarily intended to help hungry customers locate their favorite food trucks and discover new ones. Using GPS tracking, the app — which started in Pittsburgh and now has users in 17 other metro areas in the United States — can also notify its growing customer base when a registered food truck is within a three-mile radius.
The app is free to download for iOS, Android or the web. It also caters to the 350+ food trucks registered on it, who have the ability to upload menus, post schedules and locations for the day and add events to the Mobile Nom calendar.
The Worlan Software partners spent most of their free time from the spring of 2014 to the spring of 2015 working on the app, managing their jobs and covering unexpected expenses out of their own pockets. In order to better understand how to design the app, they began to befriend fledgling food truck owners.
“Jon had never visited a food truck before we started working on this app, and despite them being my favorite part of college, I didn’t really understand how the industry worked either, so we reached out to some to better understand how the industry operates,” Landry said.
One such food truck was Las Chicas, a Hispanic food truck owned by mother-daughter team Stephanie and Amanda Morales.
Las Chicas first came in contact with Mobile Nom in early 2015, Stephanie Morales said. Landry came to the order window and asked Las Chicas if it would like to test out the app.
“We’d only been open for a few months, and my daughter — who’s a lot more tech-savvy than I am — convinced me that it’d be a great way to promote ourselves,” Morales said. “So we became a test truck of sorts.”
The owners of Las Chicas gave Worlan Software advice on what food trucks needed that could be incorporated into the app during its development.
“We’re not brick and mortar establishments and we oftentimes won’t be in usual spots because there’s an event going on somewhere or a catering job we took,” Morales said, adding that communicating accurate locations to their customers was a top priority.
Worlan software worked out the kinks in Mobile Nom while Las Chicas used it.
“I remember once early on we opened the app and the GPS put our location in China,” Morales said. “That’s still something we laugh about with Paul and John.”
Morales said Landry and Worek were easy and enjoyable to work with. They’re receptive to criticism and accepting and encouraging ideas for the app from others.
“I actually proposed to them we make a sticker that I could put on my truck so people know they can use Mobile Nom to find it — they got all excited and took a step further and made a QR code for people to scan,” Morales said.
While developing the app had its challenges, Landry pointed out that owning a food truck can be a lot of work, too.
“These people need to wake up early to prep their food, then they need to load it up, drive to their location and then unpack before they can start selling,” Landry said. “We started out with the goal of the app helping people find food trucks, but we really want to help make it easier for the trucks, too.”
Morales said that without Mobile Nom, she thinks Las Chicas would get much less foot traffic.
“We get a sizable number of people who say they found us through the app. Without it, our customer base would probably be limited to who’s following us on our own social media or who’s in the area we’re in at the time,” Morales said.
As an added boost, Worlan Software will sponsor food trucks who sign up for a premium membership so that Mobile Nom users see their content first.
Kevin Heenan is the owner of Pittsburgh’s Sugar and Spice ice cream truck, which is registered on the app as a premium member. He said the app gives his business a decent advantage over the increasing competition.
“With the growing food truck population in Pittsburgh, having this app is a pretty big deal,” Heenan said. “The guys behind Mobile Nom also promote us on their own social media and on the app alongside our own accounts, and with all the competition you need a jump like that.”
Landry said he and Worek don’t have any other plans to make new apps. Instead, Worlan Software plans to keep working on Mobile Nom as it grows.
“We’ve definitely seen a rise in interest in the past year, and we’re both having a ton of fun working on the app, so I don’t think we’ll be starting anything new soon,” Landry said.
According to Landry, getting Worek interested in food trucks was one of the most enjoyable parts of working on Mobile Nom.
“He’s actually started going to ones without me,” Landry said. “I mean, finally!”