TML Spotlight:Daniel Oliveira & Cow Bells

“While everybody was snow skiing or at the beach, I was cutting my teeth,” says Daniel Oliveira, founder of Cow Bells, a specialty burger food truck near downtown Austin. “I’ve always wanted to do something on my own so a little after graduation I opened Cow Bells.”

Daniel established Cow Bells in 2012, just around the time food trucks started to trend in Austin, Texas. After working at burger joints, grocery stores and wrapping up school at Texas State, Daniel decided he had the experience and ambition to start something of his own. Seven years later, Cow Bells has become a fan favorite – a fun, and exciting place specializing in pop-ups, catering, and private events.

With a unique, engaging theme that blends pop culture elements and amusing menu items – the Woody Harrelson, MMA, Pilgrim, Party Crasher, Spare Tire – Daniel and his team have found a way to connect with their customers and generate a loyalty that has helped them quickly continue to grow.

Texas MediaLink had a chance to speak with Daniel, where he discusses his and Cow Bells’ success, as well as key advice on business and customer loyalty.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career/business?

I started working at my uncle Carlos’ burger joint called Players when I was 16. My dad told me in order to get a car I had to be responsible and had to find a way to pay for gas and insurance. My first job was sacking groceries at Randall’s. That gig only lasted about 3 months. No disrespect to all my brothers and sisters sacking groceries but I felt the job was a little boring so I decided to move on. My dad got on me for quitting my job without a backup plan. So I realized he was totally right and I needed to think of something fast. I asked him about working at Players, his brother’s restaurant located by the University of Texas and he thought it was a great idea. He called his brother and my uncle had me training the next day. I remember it being spring break and I worked the whole week. While everybody was snow skiing or at the beach, I was cutting my teeth. I started at busboy then slowly but surely worked my way up to manager. My uncle wanted me to learn every position so he also had me on the register, the burgers and the fryer. Finally I was wrapping up school at Texas State and that’s around the time food trucks started to trend in Austin. I’ve always wanted to do something on my own so a little after graduation I opened Cow Bells.

What is Cow Bells?

Cow Bells is a specialty burger food truck. Established in 2012 off East Riverside Dr. located in Austin, Tx. Currently, we specialize in pop-ups, catering and private events. We have basic items on the menu like a classic cheeseburger & fries, but we also have other things like turkey and veggie burgers, sliders that come on Hawaiian sweet rolls, homemade cherry lemonade and a handful of tasty fried sides. When I wrote the menu I wanted to keep it simple but I also didn’t want to leave anybody out. We are a burger shop with variety. Our focus is on providing a quality product paired with good customer service.

Why did you start Cow Bells?

Ever since my early days at Players I’d always wanted to be a business owner. By the time I was wrapping up college I had plenty of experience and learned a lot from my uncle Carlos. He taught me the business side of things but he also instilled a unique work ethic and discipline in me. Without all of that there’s no way I would’ve made it past year one with my business.

How is your business different?

My restaurant is on wheels! It’s pretty sweet being mobile. Being able to travel is way better than being stuck in one spot forever. I’m also a hands on owner, an owner/operator if you will. I never envisioned tossing the keys to somebody and having them run the show. I always wanted to be captain of the ship. I see a lot of restaurants and businesses expand but it’s pretty rare you see the owner prepping, cooking and serving the food. I don’t mind rolling up the sleeves and getting dirty. My business is my baby.

What’s the best thing about what you do?

Being your own boss is pretty sweet. There’s plenty of pressure though so you got to be careful what you wish for. Having the ability to create your own schedule and represent your own business is a great feeling. You just have to put in the time and effort to make it happen. Sometimes you have to miss birthdays and special events. Other times your employees may call in sick and you have to sacrifice your day off to make it work. No matter what, you have to be there, but in the end it’s all worth it.

Can you tell us about the best business experience you’ve had?

I’ll never forget opening day. You finally see your vision and dream come into fruition. It’s pretty cool. You keep grinding and try to do things right and people will notice. We’ve been in two cookbooks, made appearances on tv, and had a couple articles written up for us in the Austin American Statesman. That stuff makes me feel good but the best experience I’ve had is customer satisfaction. They’ll tell you they traveled distances from Leander or Georgetown which with Austin traffic is pretty amazing. They took the time to cruise all that way to try something I created. I love serving kids and seeing the smiles on their faces after they’re done eating. That to me is the best part of the job.

What makes your company successful?

There’s tons of competition in the burger business these days. I believe keeping it fresh, having a nice selection on the menu and friendly service goes a long way. Consistency is key.

What advice do you have for small business owners/entrepreneurs in the area?

I feel like “location, location, location” is a little played out. I’ve seen tons of businesses off the beaten path with horrible parking thrive. If you have a good product and good service, people will come. If somebody asked me for advice in my field I’d tell them experience is what you need most. Hands-on experience, not just waiting tables though, you’ve got to be well rounded in all aspects of the game. That means starting at a entry-level position and working your way up. Once you see and know what it takes, you’ll be able to put yourself in position to succeed.

What’s next for you and Cow Bells?

Sell more burgers. I can’t predict the future. All I can do is keep working hard and hopefully good things will come. I never reached out to the news outlets but after working hard, they’ll find out sooner or later. Next thing you know we’re on live TV in front of the city of Austin. I try to live in the present and keep it simple.

What element/aspects accredited to your success?

I love my customers. Without them I wouldn’t be in business. I don’t take them for granted. I like to learn their names and get to know them. Memorizing a regular’s order is a piece of cake. I want to know how their kid did in his basketball tournament last weekend or how their latest DIY project at the house turned out. Let’s talk music, let’s talk movies. We can also talk burgers but I try to get a little deeper than that. I like to know a little bit of everything when it comes to family.

For more information about Cow Bells, please visit their website at www.cowbells512.com. You can also check out some of their photos, videos and menu on their Facebook page here, or Yelp page here.

Texas MediaLink is proud to support San Antonio entrepreneurs and Austin entrepreneurs as they navigate through their career and achieve success in their business ventures.

Know a successful San Antonio entrepreneurs or Austin entrepreneur we should interview? Send us an email at info@texasmedialink.com.