The Twin Cities food truck scene is booming; just look at the numbers. Minneapolis is having its best year yet, with 179 food trucks licensed to operate in the city. Just under a decade ago, there were only 10.
“It grew and grew,” said Jess Jenkins, executive director of the Minnesota Food Truck Association.
With so many trucks come so many more stories, from how they are built to what they serve. Last week, we told you about six food truck trends rolling into the Twin Cities area.
Here, we take a look at two mobile restaurants — one of the originals and a newbie — that used travel as a launchpad for their food ventures.
Gastrotruck goes brick and mortar
Take it from Stephen Trojahn, co-owner of one of Minneapolis’ longest-running food trucks, Gastrotruck: “Business is amazing.”
Gastrotruck (gastrotruck.mobi), which will celebrate a decade in business next year, is on to its third truck. This summer, it’ll cater some 200 weddings with an on-call staff of up to 60 people.
Now, it’s joining other food trucks in the move to a brick-and-mortar establishment.
The new counter-service spot, scheduled to open in Minneapolis this summer, is called Carbon. (The exact location is still under wraps.)
“It’s coal-fired pit beef,” Trojahn said. “It’s considered Maryland barbecue, but it’s nothing like barbecue at all.”
Inspired by East Coast roadside stands, fast-casual Carbon will serve paper-thin-sliced beef sandwiches with a horseradish-based “tiger” sauce.
“The quality of the beef coming off a carbon-fired grill, shaved super thin, it melts in your mouth,” Trojahn said.
The restaurant will offer variations on the sandwich using the same live-fired beef: Philly cheesesteak, Italian beef, French dip; and veggie sides such as grilled whole carrots. There will also be Maryland-style “boardwalk” fries topped with Old Bay seasoning and malt vinegar.
Co-owner Catherine Eckert grew up in Maryland. “We did a research trip there, and I was blown away,” Trojahn said.
The new concept is good news for fans of Gastrotruck, which doesn’t often appear on the downtown Minneapolis lunch scene. Trojahn and Eckert got out of that “rat race,” as Trojahn calls it, in favor of the catering business, which he says has exploded.
Brick-and-mortar wasn’t always in the cards, though. They were just too busy. “It’s a good problem to have,” Trojahn said.
He believes the food-truck business is going strong because it gives diners something they can’t get anywhere else.
“People love one-on-one interaction,” he said. “There are two or three people on a truck, and one is possibly the owner and one is the cook. You might be talking to the people making your lunch. You don’t get that in a restaurant.”
A second job for a basketball star
During her offseasons from the Minnesota Lynx, forward Rebekkah Brunson has played for teams all over Europe. Her time overseas exposed the “almost vegan” to some food adventures. A high: a delectable pumpkin and tahini dessert in Turkey. A low: mystery meat in Russia.
But one food she encountered over two winters in Belgium became the launchpad for a new business: waffles. On overcast winter days — not unlike the winter days in Minnesota — Brunson turned to those waffles for a pick-me-up.
“You just want something warm and sweet and comforting,” she said.
Now as the proprietor of Sweet Gypsy Waffle (sweetgypsywaffle.com) with her wife, Bobbi Jo Lamar, Brunson has re-created the deep-pocketed Liège waffles she found so addictive, down to the crisp, caramelized sugar crunch.
“I was adamant that I would bring these waffles home,” Brunson said.
Sweet waffles incorporate toppings such as Nutella and banana, chocolate and strawberries, an indulgent homemade whipped cream and caramel. The Purple Reign has blueberry compote and fresh basil. Savory options have included avocado toast and beer cheese with popcorn.
Brunson also devised a vegan waffle recipe for those who want it. In the future, she hopes to incorporate other flavors from her travels — such as that pumpkin and tahini dessert from Turkey — that she could imagine taking waffle form. But “the waffle is amazing by itself,” she said. “You don’t have to pile on.”
The name Sweet Gypsy, and the names of some of the waffles — the Traveler, the Dutch — nod to the couple’s life on the road. “When we go overseas, it’s almost like living out of a bag, and then you come back here and move and go somewhere else,” Brunson said.
A few years ago, she decided to stop traveling for the offseason. Instead, she and Lamar started planning a family. They also started planning a food truck business. Last year, they had a baby boy, and now, they have Sweet Gypsy.
“The timing was a little crazy, because we were trying to get pregnant for so long and we were trying to start a business for so long, and we never thought they would collide,” Lamar said.
Another collision: The Lynx season is concurrent with food truck season. “We’re going to have to figure it out,” Brunson said. “It’s going to be an interesting summer.”
She said waffle-making has something in common with basketball: “dedication to the craft.”
She explained, “It takes a lot of time and work and investment to be where we are, and I think any small-business owner would say the same thing. Basketball takes a lot of dedication and sacrifice, but if you’re passionate about it, you’re going to do it.”
More food trucks
Check out these three upcoming festivals, which bring together dozens of food trucks and even nonfood trucks. On the culinary side, some of the newest trucks will make their festival debuts, including Tin Fish, Sweet Gypsy Waffle, Lu’s Sandwiches, Birchwood and Jinx Tea. Nonfood offerings include vintage records, a mobile men’s salon, a photo booth and a mobile escape room.
June 23: Uptown Food Truck Festival, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (Hennepin Av. from Lake to 32nd St., and 31st St. from Humboldt to Girard Av. S., Mpls.).
July 20: Anoka Food Truck Festival, noon-10 p.m. (Jackson St. from 1st to 2nd Av., Anoka).
Aug. 17: St. Paul Food Truck Festival, noon-10 p.m. (Mears Park, 221 E. 5th St., St. Paul).