Counter Intelligence: Smack Shack launching a restaurant

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 28, 2012 - 3:32 PM
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The forces behind Smack Shack -- the food truck home of the popular lobster roll -- will open a restaurant this summer.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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Come summer, Minneapolis' North Loop neighborhood is going to be swimming in lobster rolls, because in an enterprising bit of role reversal, a food truck is launching a bricks-and-mortar version of itself.

Not just any food truck, but the wildly successful Smack Shack (www.smack-shack.com), now entering its third crowd-pleasing season.

Co-owners Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald are opening a permanent home for their lobster roll-po' boy phenomenon, moving into a former warehouse space at Washington and 6th Avenues N.

"This is what I've always wanted to do with the truck," said Thoma. "We looked at a lot of spaces, and when we walked into this one, we really couldn't see much. Then the landlord revealed the 26-foot ceilings and these amazing wood trusses -- they were covered by a drop ceiling -- and we knew right then that this was the spot."

"Very casual," is how Thoma describes the restaurant, which will also be called the Smack Shack. "It's going to be a once-a-week kind of place, where you can drop in wearing shorts and flip-flops. We picture it as something you would see on the coast. The building has that look and feel. It's brick, a single story, with a loading dock -- it resembles something you would see on a wharf or a pier."

That loading dock is going to become a 60-seat patio, leading into a 115-seat dining room with a pair of bars, one of which will offer ringside seats into a display prep kitchen (the space is being designed by ESG Architects of Minneapolis). Bartenders will also serve as oyster shuckers, a dual role that Thoma picked up during a recent New England culinary tour. "I don't know that they're very excited about that," Thoma said with a laugh. "But if they know that going in, they can't complain."

Thoma describes the menu as "more coastal than strictly East Coast." Along with oysters and other chilled shellfish, the kitchen will focus on the Smack Shack's signature lobster rolls (so spectacular that Bon Appetit magazine named them among the nation's six best), along with an expanded po' boy selection, a move influenced by a recent research junket to New Orleans. "And fried chicken, which I'm really excited about," said Thoma. The plan is to serve both lunch and dinner, with a late-June opening.

Fans of the 1029 Bar (1029 NE. Marshall St., Mpls., www.the1029bar.com), the truck's home base, will be relieved to learn that the Smack Shack will continue its partnership with the northeast Minneapolis watering hole.

(By the way, on April 9, the bar and the truck will celebrate the Smack Shack's appearance on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives," starting at 4 p.m.; the episode, which will be screened on TV sets in an adjacent tent, airs at 9 p.m.)

The truck isn't going anywhere, either; it will continue to spread its lobster-roll love on Marquette Avenue after the restaurant opens.

Thoma said he's definitely looking forward to one particular side benefit of operating a restaurant vs. a food truck, and that's hiring a dishwasher. "I've become really good at it," he said with a laugh. "But, wow, having someone else doing the dishes, that's going to be great."

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