Driven

California Cart Builder: Food-Truck Manufacturer Fueling a Culinary Craze

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By: Aaron Task

At the turn of the millennium, Rodney and Elma Eaton seemed to have it made. Rodney was making six figures as a pressman for a successful printing firm. They had a beautiful house in Corona, Ca., featuring a pool and horses to keep their four kids busy and happy.

But Elma wanted something more. Specifically, she wanted vacations that did not include sleeping outdoors and cooking over a campfire. In order to get money to afford something a bit more luxurious, she decided to open a hot dog stand. Elma had worked in food services before and had a friend who'd made good money running a cart. But Elma had something her friend didn't: Rodney.

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A super-handy guy with a flair for design, Rodney built Elma a hot dog cart that looked so sharp it drew a lot of customers and ultimately someone who wanted to buy it and the business. After repeating the same pattern a few more times, Rodney and Elma decided to forget selling hot dogs and focus on building and selling carts. They made plans to downsize their lives and build the business slowly. But Rodney also wanted something more: To work for himself.

"I wanted to be independent," he says. "I knew this could be successful deep down inside and I just couldn't wait." So in 2000, Rodney gave up a $125,000 salary -- and decided to go into business for himself. Telling his wife he'd just quit his great job at the printing shop was just the first of many hardships Rodney, and his family, would have to endure.

"When Rodney called me and told me he had just quit his job I panicked," Elma recalls. He made 125 thousand dollars a year…and then nothing." Having already sold their house in Corona, the Eatons suddenly found themselves without a home or any income. For the next three years, the family would LIVE IN what RODNEY calls "a really junky 1970 trailer" with no running water. "It wasn't pretty," he recalls. "We lived in dirt." Times were tough -- really tough for the Eatons, who had to borrow water from a neighbor and haul away their waste, and tried (unsuccessfully) to get Food Stamps. But Rodney had a dream to build better food trucks far superior than anything he has ever created.

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Eventually, the orders started trickling in. In the early days, Rodney and his oldest son Tony would work all hours and sleep in a garage. All the money they'd make from one truck would go toward buying newer and better tools to make the next one, everything from hammers to a metal grinder. Twelve years after a taking a huge leap into the unknown, the Eatons have a thriving business, California Cart Builder in Lake Elsinore, CA. As the food industry changed, so did the business: The Eatons now specialize in custom-made food trucks, which have sparked a culinary revolution all over the world.

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From less than 10 orders just a few years ago, California Cart Builder did over $2 million in sales in 2011 and now has hundreds of clients from all over the world, including as far away as Dubai, Iceland and Australia. The company now has 13 employees, including three of the Eaton children: Tony, Rodney Jr. and Shay. The family has lunch together every day and seem to have all learned the same lesson from those tough days in their used trailer: You don't need material things to be happy. Hard work pays off. Keep the faith even, especially, when things look tough. And, yes, the American Dream is alive and well.

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The Driven Team is on a nationwide search for the next entrepreneur to be featured in an upcoming episode!  Share your story with us at Driven@yahoo-inc.com or follow us on twitter @aarontask #drivenstories.

Video produced by Scott Fraser and Jessica Ashford. Production by Michael Manas, Tommy Morquecho,  Josh Kesner, Dave McFarland, Mike Baum and Jason Bell. Edited by Ryan Fritzsche. Graphics by Todd Tanner For Yahoo! Studios. Executive Producers: Russ Torres and Peter Gorenstein.

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