Daniel Shemtob is the definition of the millennial persona amplified.
Aside from his round glasses and neon green TLT attire, the first thing I noticed about him was his tattoo; “I am the future” read legibly across his right forearm. I instantly sensed that it was not just a saying he inked on his body to be trendy. He truly believes he and his company are the future.
And as far as college catering businesses go, they just might be.
The Lime Truck’s restaurant is a Westwood hotspot, serving as a meeting place for both UCLA students and staff. Long, communal benches, coupled with a TV broadcasting basketball highlights and pop music blaring in the background, show that TLT is a breeding ground for community interaction. The restaurant is meant to foster a sense of unity among Westwood residents, bringing people together over their love for tacos, Shemtob said.
TLT is now offering a more flexible catering menu, along with drop-off and setup options to help serve the university community. The team is looking to cater directly to UCLA-specific events such as Spring Sing, sports games and other on-campus activities. Their goal is to serve fresh, affordable made-from-scratch food.
TLT celebrated its new business plan Feb. 20 by offering a free buffet inside their crowded restaurant on Westwood Blvd. I sat down with Shemtob, owner of TLT Foods, to discuss their road to success. His rapid, decorous speech was interspersed with the occasional “super dope.” Shemtob proudly claimed that TLT started the fast-casual trend in Westwood, which is quite the bold statement.
“I thought Westwood was the perfect culmination of students and young professionals,” he said. “Second- and third-year students at UCLA go and tag all their favorite restaurants in Westwood and they tagged TLT, which reinforced how popular we were becoming. Our business grew tremendously after the first year.”
While we spoke, I took my first bite of the restaurant’s signature Mr. Potato Taco, which was bursting with tangy twinges of flavor. Chimichurri sauce spilled down the blue corn tortilla as Shomteb discussed the restaurant’s most recent partnership with UCLA. TLT was invited to a business fair on campus, but Shemtob was the only business owner in attendance – something he thought was strange. He stressed how important on-campus involvement is to TLT.
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As I munched on roasted corn on the cob, Shemtob busily ran around the restaurant catering to customers and glancing at his watch every chance he could. But when asked about TLT’s relationship with UCLA, he paused to relish in a moment of gratitude.
“I know how special our relationship is with UCLA, and how ingrained we are in that network. I didn’t really realize the capacity of it all,” he said. “It’s incredibly humbling to see our reach.”
It would appear that TLT does have strong ties with the UCLA community. Kimberly Arizabal, program manager at the David Geffen School of Medicine, has been eating at The Lime Truck for about 10 years, before they opened the Westwood restaurant. When she found out about their restaurant and learned they delivered, she decided to try out their catering service for department meetings.
She has never received any complaints about TLT’s service from fellow faculty members, she said. The food is flavorful and the delivery is quick, she said. She uses their company to cater events at least once a month.
I spoke to TLT manager Shane Curran, who opened up about their relationship with the university. There’s a responsibility to make food that’s both tasty and affordable, especially since TLT is so well-known among the Westwood community, he said. Southern California slang and laid-back vibes may be obvious TLT staples. But Shemtob and Curran’s aura of millennial entrepreneurship is not a facade.
“I opened this restaurant when I was 23, so I was around the same age as a lot of college kids, and at the time I had friends who were in graduate school at UCLA. It was so cool to hear kids in their classes talking about TLT,” Shemtob said. “That was one of those moments where you feel really overwhelmed and blessed.”