( ENSPIRE Features ) Mario L. Johnson on His Success in the Food Industry
ENSPIRE Contributor: Ana Luque
Mario L. Johnson is the owner and founder of the Original Sleepy Potato, a gourmet baked potato concept that currently has six brick-and-mortar locations throughout Atlanta and Detroit, and now — a food truck! He is excited to share his food with others and tell ENSPIRE all about his restaurant and potato-inspired dishes.
With the desire and mission to feed and accommodate anyone that eats at his restaurant, Johnson offers dishes for everyone who wants to stop by and eat his delicious food. The restaurant’s menu offers a wide variety of dishes, such as gourmet loaded baked potatoes and fries, tossed with seafood, meat, and homemade sauces.
Now with his food truck, he can reach out and feed more customers who are looking for a warm delicious meal. Johnson spoke to ENSPIRE and let us know about his journey and successes as the owner of The Original Sleepy Potato.
What was the inspiration behind the Original Sleepy Potato?
When I think of The Original Sleepy Potato, I think of a place where you can get a great potato. It’s something universal that can appeal to everyone. Plus, I like the idea of you getting sleepy after eating one of our big baked potatoes filled with toppings. You can also get fries, tossed with seafood, meat, and homemade sauces.
I wanted to create a hub where I served dishes for meat lovers, pescatarians, and vegans alike. We literally have a potato option for them all.
Could you tell us more about your journey as the founder of the Original Sleepy Potato?
We were founded in 2018 in Vine City (in Atlanta). We also opened our food truck in 2021. In this time span, I’ve opened up five brick-and-mortar locations in Atlanta and one in Detroit. Detroit is my hometown, and Atlanta has been my current location for several years. With me knowing both markets, I felt the need to make sure that I have a presence in both locations.
Once I opened my Detroit location, I looked into getting another Atlanta location. Before I opened in Greenbriar Mall in Atlanta, I wanted to get something where I can serve the masses without having them drive to an area that was out of the way, so I created the food truck. In Atlanta, a lot of areas are spread out. So instead of having someone drive to a specific location, I wanted to bring the experience directly to them. With the food truck, we are allowed to reach people at festivals, parties, gatherings, events, and more.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job and why?
The best part is being able to be mobile with our food truck. We can go outside of a big party or nightclub and get instant foot traffic. We can also work into the wee hours of the morning, especially when an area is still crowded. Plus, we can go on the road to festivals and other events that we may not normally make. People from other cities, states, and countries attend some of these events. The Sleepy Potato truck allows us to reach people who may not have heard of us.
The most rewarding part of our brick-and-mortar is the constant traffic that we get. Everyone loves baked potatoes.
What’s the hardest part of your job and why?
The hardest part is that it is having that dedicated staff in place with operating your restaurant. Running any type of food establishment can be intense. Also, having those people that are willing and able to travel to an event with the food truck can be a lot. Ideally, I want my food truck to be at places every day of the week, but sometimes that can’t happen.
Since COVID hit, people aren’t as eager to work as they used to be. They are more concerned with owning their own business and/or becoming social media influencers.
Of all the dishes you offer, which one is your favorite and why?
Of course, I love our robust potato options, which include Crab & Shrimp Alfredo, Chicken Alfredo, Chicken Broccoli, Chicken Bacon Ranch, Seafood, Steak & Cheese, Surf & Turf, Salmon, Grilled Lamb, Veggie, Philly Cheesesteak.
I’m also a fan of our Signature Sleepy Burger, which is served with bacon, mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and grilled onions. I pair this with our flavored French fries, which come in Bacon, Cajun, Lemon Pepper, BBQ, Old Bay, and more flavors.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own food business?
Make sure you have the right partners in place if you are doing something with someone else. I’ve been through a lot to build the Sleepy Potato brand, but I came in contact with some wrong people along the way. But thank God, he has allowed me to be in a place to do it on my own with no partners, no investors, just hard work and sacrifice.
Also, make sure you give clients great food and have great service. With a restaurant, it can get busy, tiresome, and frantic. Please make sure you are still delivering top-tier food and service, even when things get hectic.
For more information about delicious dishes and locations visit Original Sleepy Potato’s website and Instagram.
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