I’ve always been fascinated with the theory of evolution; the logistics behind it, the ideas based on this long, ever-gradual change in life spanning thousands and millions of years, billions of generations. The act of survival causing gradual shifts which lead to amazingly different and dynamic traits after millennia. Just taking peaks into part of how it happens, seeing how its influenced by environment, human controlled interaction (just look at dogs and tulips), from sexual selection leading to extremely colorful bird plumage to the adversarial back and forth between predator and prey. So many slight factors both subtle and poignantly obvious, leading a community of species within their environments to grow and change in various ways; some do it on their own, but there’s always ties to how another life form affects it, and vice versa. And then there are those creatures which evolve to truly help and depend on each other, evolving together to create a symbiotic relationship.
Symbiosis… we often remember this idea as the random and interesting nature show displaying a few of these odd pairings in the wild, such as the shrimp that cleans the fish and its den in return for safety, or those birds that pick bugs off hippos for a ride on its back. But it’s not the only place we see this; our daily lives, our businesses, so much of our time is based on two or more individuals and groups working together towards a common goal of survival, if not thrival (is that a word? I think we should make it a word). Truthfully, and this isn’t just because I’m a die-hard foodie and beer geek-in-training, I can’t help but see this relationship better exemplified than the partnership of two very well-known growing trends in the past decade or so: Food Trucks and Breweries (the kind with taprooms and no country-wide-advertising strategies).
At some point in time, as these two started to grow and spread independently, a collision happened, lightbulbs broke and went off, and the realization of working companionship was born! I like to imagine it was a “Peanut-Butter-in-my-Chocolate-Situation; you know, something like “You crashed your Food Truck into my Brewery!” “Your Beer Kegs smashed through our windows!”
… or not. Either way, the two businesses found one another, each providing aspects the other couldn’t, combining into an even stronger location and atmosphere for potential customers. The truck brought customers looking for fun street food to a half-filled taproom to wet their lips, while the taproom provided extra customers which the truck could cook for when they aren’t trying to survive the streets. And that’s only the start of it; as the two started down this path, their own evolution took place, helping to skyrocket the birth of new businesses in each as they developed new interests and worked new strategies and events. With every year their relationship only gets stronger, turning from two curious species working cooperatively into a full symbiosis, churning out a generation where this partnership is not just encouraged, but expected.
But that expectation has yet to get to the point where it’s still natural and easy to form this relationship soon after ‘birth.’ Much like in choosing a mate, a Truck can’t just roll up and expect the reciprocating brewery to let them sell; there’s many other schedules one needs to get in through, communication to be put into place, basically work that needs to be done to DEVELOP this companionship. The benefits in this field of mobile vending can go far beyond expectations, so getting into a proper partnership is vital. For those just starting on the road, it can be a challenge, but a vital accomplishment as one learns these new survival skills, ageing into a strong and healthy specimen of your ecology’s food truck ‘species.’
To discuss this concept, we sat down with Minnesota’s (this writer’s home base) own Marty Richie, who owns and runs Motley Crew’s Heavy Metal Grill (listen to a previous podcast interview with them here) along with his partner Lisa. Living close to here and starting this article, I couldn’t think of any other truck that I’d rather have to ask about the pairing of truck and beer. Shelling out big, messy melty sandwiches with names reminiscent of a backstage groupie, not to mention big cups of delicious chili and bags of what can only be the epitome of hand-made bar snacks (which they’ve started selling in various taprooms as well), Motley’s was one of the first trucks on the beer scene, and is practically the pinnacle of what one might expect for ‘brewery food,’ both in style and attitude. I am very thankful that they were able to get back to me and take time to answer my list of questions.
Food Truck Empire: First off, tell us a bit about yourself and the Truck.
Marty: My background is 15 years of kitchen experience and 15 years of Digital marketing which is a perfect combination for a food truck.
FTE: Did you plan on working a lot with breweries when you started or did the affinity realization come later?
Marty: We were one of the first trucks (in the Twin Cities) to realize that brewery’s and food trucks were a match made in heaven. We knew early on that we would spend as much time at one as we could. We have always had a great relationship with all the brewery’s but 612 Brew and the new BauHaus are where we spend most our time.
Marty: They don’t want to sell food and we cant sell beer, BOOM! No real bad things to speak of. Like I said we always maintain a strong relationship with breweries.
FTE: If it hasn’t been mentioned yet, what’s your Favorite part of what you do with these guys?
Marty: Getting to know each brewery and how they all differ from each other. From the beer to the owners to the people who frequent the tap room, they are all different and all have their own little traits.
FTE: You don’t happen to have any fun or crazy taproom stories after you opened the truck up do you?
Marty: We once had a police officer run up to the window late on Saturday night looking for a person who had just robbed a local store. This year at Art-A-Whirl we were the first truck to run out of food. It was actually pretty early for us and if anyone has ever had us knows that we pride ourselves in never running out of food. Well we did, around 7 and the brewery owners started to give us hell, saying stuff like “You never run out” & We didn’t run out of beer. Well Karma came to visit them that night because 3 hours later they ran out of beer. Made for good conversations at the end of the night.
Marty: We were accepted as one of them early on. We have the food and the attitude for brewery’s so we felt very much at home. Not all trucks can be successful at a brewery like a veggie heavy truck or one that has too complicated of a menu. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)
FTE: In your opinion, has there been any change in the Food Truck-Brewery dynamic in the last couple years, either in your local area or just in general?
Marty: I think it is going to continue to grow but the dynamics is pretty much the same. Central and Broadway in NE Minneapolis is Ground Zero for breweries so if you want to play with the big dogs then you need to plant your flag in this neighborhood. Thats not to say that this is the only place you can have success but it is turning into the hot spot for brewery hopping.
FTE: What is the first thing that new truck owners should do if they want to start working with breweries?
Marty: Know your audience! People change from brewery to brewery and you need to know where you will do good and where you wont. Lots of people does not always translate to lots of tickets. Make sure you have a menu that will accommodate the crowd without changing who you are and what your good at.
FTE: Relationship building is the cornerstone of every business, especially when you’re a Food Truck trying to work yourself into a regular location. What advice do you have for helping trucks build these ongoing, familiar relationships with one or more breweries?
Marty: NEVER NEVER NEVER Cancel a date and ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS cover your own dates if you can not be there. They have a lot of hungry customers and they depend on you being there to feed them. Most breweries will only let you burn them one time and you will be off their calendar ONLY for the rest of the year if your lucky.
Relationships are built on trust. The closer you are with the owners the faster you build that trust because ultimately they are the ones who hold your fate in their hands. Regardless of who they have doing the scheduling they still say yes or no. Brewery’s like variety as well so there is a point where you can burn yourself out at one location. Say what you are going to do and then do it! Sounds simple but thats honestly the secret sauce. If you say you’re going to be there at this time and date, make damn sure you are and NEVER cancel!
FTE: Are there any Menu concerns you think newcomer truck owners should take into consideration when either visiting or centering their business around breweries? Do you ever change or adjust food to fit a taproom atmosphere as opposed to street days?
Marty: Again, Know your audience. Don’t go to a taproom with lobster rolls & salads. People drinking beer want salt, bread, meat, veggies are fine but mix them in with one of the three I just mentioned.
FTE: I’ve seen many a truck that likes to work WITH beer from whatever brewery they’re parked at for the night in their cooking; have you done that, and what benefits does it hold?
Marty: It is a great way to forge that relationship with the brewery you are at. They are very passionate about their beer and are more than happy to pour you as much beer as you want to infuse your dish with their brew. We do it with our Brat Burgers and our guests love it.
FTE: In regards to that, how can trucks properly keep proper communication and trade with the breweries they frequent to use these different beers from day-to-day trips? Or how do they keep contact with breweries to have access to the product use?
Marty: While you there they will give you as much as you need but if you plan to use their product on a daily basis then you would need to work out an agreement with them on wholesale pricing and or branding them on your menu or online.
Free Beer is a wonderful phrase but don’t take advantage of it. Most breweries will offer you a trade of beer for food. I personally don’t like to work with a buzz so I rarely take them up on their offer BUT I always feed the crew and NEVER charge. Occasionally they toss a couple bucks in the tim jar but that goes to Lisa or whomever is working the window. In the event that I do have a beer or two I always make it a point to tip the person working the bar 50% of the price of beer. This is an unwritten rule, not a tap room policy but its something I always do.
Bottom line is have a few beers if you want don’t take advantage of their kindness and always reciprocate their gratuity. I also use them as ginny pigs for new menu items before I put them on. This is also something they enjoy oh and keep things on the truck they enjoy like hot sauce or eggs. Whatever special little thing they like about their food I would highly suggest keeping it in stock.
FTE: Are there any unique Advertising or Marketing considerations one should take when scheduling days with breweries?
Marty: Always announce that you are going to be there the day of and even at the beginning of the week and ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS Brand the brewery via Twitter and Facebook. We like to post pictures of our truck at the brewery and also post various pictures throughout the day with food or conversations with customers.
FTE: If I’m correct, your brewery relationship is a bit unique since you now have one of your products sold in some of the local taprooms. Could you tell us more about how this situation came about and how you went through it?
Marty: Our pretzels go well with beer and our relationship with the breweries have allowed us to have them for sale there. Its all about the relationships. The pretzels were always a HOT item at brewery’s and since we had such a strong relationship with 612 Brew they asked to carry them so they had something to sell to customers if a truck wasn’t there and make a couple bucks on them. We even offered to make special flavors for brewery’s. The pretzels right now are really in their infant stage right now but they are going to explode next year.
FTE: Personality is a very strong player in the food truck world, which you seem to be quite well versed in! How does this come into play in brewery visits?
Marty: Again… Know your audience. Don’t build a smoothie truck and try to book a brewery date. Build a menu that beer drinking people will want. This will play in with the personality of your truck. Everything from the wrap to the 80’s rock blasting out of the speakers to the personality in the window. Everything creates the personality of your truck. Do you, don’t try to do someone else.
FTE: Is there anything else you would like to say about this subject, or to new truck owners in general? New truck owners need to talk to as many truck owners as possible.
Marty: They need to concentrate on their look. Too many times I see trucks built to a T with horrible branding on the outside. People eat with their eyes before their mouth. Build a menu of what sells NOT JUST what you like. Again, too many times I see menus that consist of the owners favorites which is fine but make sure its what sells. Develop a menu that requires most of the work OFF the truck and light assembly on the truck. This will allow for faster ticket times which equals more money.
And more money leads to better survival and continued business evolution of your own concept into this vast jungle of culinary offerings. Thankfully, we have a helping hand to push through the challenging foliage, and that hand often contains some pretty delicious microbrew. Whether this path will lead down the road to a continued growth of amazing and exponential proportions, or it’ll level out as the hipster trends move onto something different, is still an unknown. But for now this symbiotic course can only come together to make something wonderful right now, and those who can take advantage of it certainly should. Thanks again go to Motley Crews two shining owners, for their delicious food and for contributing to this rambling foray of a post! Good luck to you, and good luck to all Trucks and Breweries looking to reach out to each other in the future; don’t forget to share!