After a tumultuous year, Jon Wipfli of Animales Barbeque Co. is ready for more stability. So, he's packing up his massive meat smokers and is on the hunt for a permanent restaurant location, and he's pulled in a fellow restaurateur as an investor — Billy Tserenbat of Billy Sushi.
"We met when he had his truck and I was working on a food truck called Dandelion Kitchen. We've stayed connected through the years," Wipfli said. "Now, as we need to expand, partnering with him makes sense because of his operational knowledge and everything else he brings to the table."
The move has Wipfli ending the year on a high note in a year filled with highs and lows.
A highlight came this summer from a spotlight in "Texas Monthly," revered for its barbecue coverage, that suggested eaters take a trip north to try Animales for proper Texas-style barbecue. The story brought the food truck a whole new level of attention, along with another local business mentioned, Boomin Barbecue.
One of the year's lows came soon after. A complaint was filed with the city of Minneapolis highlighting an ordinance that requires food trucks to keep all equipment (even trash cans) contained within the truck. Simply put: Smokers were a no-go. After city leaders intervened, the smokers were allowed a brief reprieve until November. Animales then shut down its operations for the season. (Boomin Barbecue has since had to switch business models to serve foods other than its famous barbecue.)
Wipfli began Animales in 2018, and after years of being in constant expansion mode and balancing Minnesota's seasons, he said he knew it was time for a change. For the 2022 season, he had swapped locations of his two trucks. The burger truck operated outside Able Seedhouse and Brewery, which is now permanently closed, while the barbecue truck moved over to Bauhaus Brew Labs, along with a new high-capacity smoker to keep up with increased demand.
Which brings us to his partnership with Tserenbat.
From the outset, sushi and charred meats wouldn't seem to have much in common. But Tserenbat began his business in a food truck — Minneapolis' first (and so far only) Edo-style sushi truck. Wipfli was working for another food truck at the time, and the mobile food business community was small and tight. The two have remained friends and fans of each other's businesses.
The next move is to identify an address. Wipfli and Tserenbat have looked at potential spaces, including in the North Loop, but nothing is solidified. Wipfli said they would love to stay in Northeast or the North Loop, where Tserenbat's Billy Sushi is a popular nightlife spot for movers and shakers as well as a long list of visiting celebrities.
Animales 3.0 will combine its burger and barbecue restaurants into one business that will also sport a full bar with top-shelf cocktails. Wipfli was once the brunch chef at the former Bachelor Farmer, so there is hope for some expanded hours, but details are uncertain until an address is secured.
Wipfli and Tserenbat are hoping to have the full-time, year-round Texas barbecue spot open by fall 2023.