Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Contestant in ‘Great Food Truck Race’ selling used trucks, cars in Rocklin

Published: Saturday, Sep. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am

Food Network viewers know Sam Swaleh as a member of the Tikka Tikka Taco team on "The Great Food Truck Race," but Sacramento-area residents are getting to know Swaleh as a used car salesman.

Swaleh, who appears in all seven episodes with his nephews Shaun and Michael Swaleh, told me that everyone in his family, regardless of age, knows how to cook and that food is what brings his family together. The finale of “The Great Food Race” will air Sunday at 6 p.m., and the show typically brings in about 2 million viewers.

“It wasn’t about being first or second (in each episode), it was about surviving week after week,” Swaleh said. “Now we are one of three trucks left. We are in the finale, in the final three. We make the final cut to two, us and the Aloha (Plate) guys.”

The winner will receive a food truck worth $100,000 and $50,000 in startup capital. The trucks on the show were all leased. Win or lose, Swaleh said, his family will one day get a food truck rolling.

Before landing a spot on “The Great Food Race,” Swaleh was a real estate agent in Dallas. But he had lived for 20 years in the Bay Area before moving to Texas. Most of his extended family lives in the Sacramento region, and he and his brother Ali Swaleh had decided it was time he join him in Rocklin and open a used car dealership. Swaleh Motor Sales, based at 4121 Citrus Ave., No. 7, is starting small, with just 30 cars. Most sales come from or via referral.

“We are not a retail car lot,” Sam Swaleh said. “Most of our sales are based on Internet and referrals. We have a warehouse that can hold about 30 cars that we pull in every night. In the daytime, we have five to seven parking spaces to leave our cars out.”

Business is poppin’

Erika Benavides opened The Popcorn Store at 9679 E. Stockton Blvd. five years ago to give her neighbors in Elk Grove a taste of the gourmet popcorn that she grew up eating as a kid.

Before she knew it, people were driving from as far as San Francisco and Reno to buy her gourmet popcorn. Now she and her husband, David Benavides, are opening a second store at 6819 Lonetree Boulevard in Rocklin.

“I grew up in Nebraska,” Erika Benavides said. “I had a friend whose father’s name is Vic Larsen, and he opened a popcorn store back there called Vic’s Corn Popper. Thirty-some years later, Dave and I went back, and ... we took training from Vic. Since he knew me, he shared all his trade secrets and recipes with us. So we brought it out here, and we were Vic’s Corn Popper up until about a year-and-a-half ago.”

They had to change the store’s name because Larsen had sold the rights to it to a food conglomerate, and it wouldn’t let them use if they didn’t stock all its specialty snacks.

Despite the fact that the Benavideses opened their store amid the economic downturn, they achieved profitability within a year. Sales grew by about 33 percent a year for the first three years and rose by 20 percent last year.

Neither Erika nor David work in their store. She’s a firefighter with the Sacramento Fire Department, and he’s a nurse at Sutter General.

Growing hair and sales

Suffering with ulcerative colitis, Rene Lesane searched everywhere for products that she could apply to her damaged hair to give it nutrients and make it healthy.

Hundreds of dollars later, she threw up her hands and started researching and developing products for herself. She created Shea butter hair lotion and coconut hair milk. After using them faithfully, her neighbors and friends began asking her what she was doing. They begged her to let them buy her products, and when their friends asked them what they were using, they pointed them in Lesane’s direction.

Lesane launched Komaza Hair Care in mid-2007. She brought her friend of 31 years, Jennifer Taubodo, on as a minority partner in October 2008 because orders were skyrocketing. Her online business now ships hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of products from Sacramento to every state in the nation and to Canada. Lesane chose the name “Komaza” because the word means “encourage growth” in Swahili.

“We mainly focus on hair growth, creating products to put on your hair to optimize your hair growth,” Lesane said. “That’s our main focus, growing hair, so we have products like HLS, Hair Lengthening Serum. … You actually put it on your scalp and it encourages your hair to grow.”

So many African American women are experiencing hair loss because of the use of chemical processing and hair extensions, Lesane said, that she wanted to help them. She also does hair analysis, putting strands under a special microscope and sending the customer both pictures of the damage and suggestions on appropriate products.

Her least expensive product is a scalp conditioner, $8 for 4 ounces, and her most expensive one is a hair-growth formula known as The Stinky Stuff, $50 for 4 ounces. Although the product smelled awful when it was formulated, lemongrass and other natural herbs now mask the scent. It’s all sold at

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.

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