The transition from father to son has worked remarkably well at Market BBQ on Nicollet Avenue.
Owner Steve Polski comes in when he wants, while co-owner Anthony Polski comes in about noon and stays until closing time. Sometimes it’s hard for the older generation to give up control or accept new ideas at a family business such as Market BBQ, which is celebrating 70 years of existence.
Last year Anthony talked his dad into getting into the food truck game.
They have one of the more unusual food trucks around, with its cast-iron wood-burning grill.
I’ve always wanted to see what goes on inside one of the food trucks populating downtown Minneapolis. Anthony allowed that.
The wheeled crew consists of director of food truck operations Glenn Johnson (aka “Glenn Polski,” Steve’s unofficially adopted son) and chairman of the board Mike Kingsbury. They work together extremely well and without much meddling from Anthony.
Anthony has turned over the reins of the food truck with the same aplomb with which his dad has let go of the daily operation of the business. Everybody’s maturing, and it’s been sweet to watch.
Things weren’t so sweet on the day I shot video of the food truck on 2nd Avenue S. My shooting video of the truck from across the street outside U.S. Bank Plaza alarmed a security guard from the nearby Canadian Pacific Plaza.
I was on the truck shooting video of Johnson and Kingsbury when I was slightly startled to discover a man behind me on the truck. He wanted to know who I was and what I was doing, because he needed to assess whether I was a “security threat.” He also told me I could not shoot video of the CP building.
The encounter with Mr. CP did not go as he imagined after it dawned on me that he should not have been on that truck. He’s not a police officer; he’s security. I am, in fact, allowed to stand on a public sidewalk and shoot video of his building.
“Glenn and Mike were pretty upset that guy came after you. They told me they didn’t step in because you were handling the situation,” said Anthony. “But if you had needed them, they would’ve been right there. Glenn loves you; you’re Glenn’s hero.”
Now, today’s Q&A with Anthony and Steve Polski.
Q: You’ve got fire on a truck. What did it take to get the permits for that?
A: [Laughs] We had seen people with no experience running food trucks, and we had 70 years in the game of barbecuing, so we designed a grill with wood. It’s in a protected cast-iron grill. We showed it and it got approved.
Q: I’ve been impressed with how you delegated the food truck to Johnson and Kingsbury. You have not appeared to try to micromanage them. Was it hard for you to give up control?
A: Yeah. It’s hard for me to let you put something on my table. It’s extremely hard [laughs] for me to let go of control, but I feel like there are a lot of good mentors in my life and they’ve shown me the path to success, and you’ve got to let go while trusting others and finding good people. And that’s what we’ve done on that truck. We got really good people, and they are doing justice to our family’s restaurant.
Q: Why a food truck?
A: We’ve seen a lot of people do it. In the summer time we’ve really noticed that our downtown location slowed down, and we saw tons of people going out to these food trucks, lines at all of them. We figured it was better to join them than to sit here and complain about ’em.
Q: How many pounds of ribs do you go through here in a day?
A: On a busy day, about 1,000 pounds of ribs.
Q: Why won’t you take the lead nationally in the restaurant business by offering everybody the ribs prepared with a salt-free rub that you make for me? [Here’s the 2011 City Pages story tinyurl.com/zcd4o4x about why I’m on a low-sodium diet, for readers who need to know.]
A: [Laughs] Well, we pretty much stick to the script here with everything. You are a special case, a family friend, part of our family, and we make something for you.
Q: While it’s not my health problem, you know America is facing an epidemic of high blood pressure, and sodium in our diet is one reason for it. How’s your blood pressure?
A: My blood pressure has nothing to do with the food; [it] probably has to do with [pleasing] customers.
Q: Speaking of customers, are people more disgusting when they come to a restaurant than they are at home?
A: Definitely. There’s a certain sense of entitlement. They have a right to mess it up; they are paying for what they are doing and it’s going to be cleaned up anyway, so it doesn’t matter. That’s not everybody, but there’s a certain portion [who] do that.
Q: How many times have you caught people being overly romantic?
A: [Laughter] The later at night it gets, the more of that you see for sure. We have kind of a cavernous place, and people can definitely find places to hide. Also we’ve seen a slowdown [outside] since we built an enclosure for our truck. Surprisingly, you see a lot of people [laughs] back in our woodshed making it their private apartment, unromantic as that sounds. You’d be surprised how many people we saw back there.
Q: You’ve really had too much to drink when you decide it’s a good idea to go outside and have sex in a pile of wood.
A: Splinters and all; it doesn’t matter.
Q: But you also see that over here in the booth, inexplicably, closest to the kitchen.
A: Sure. But it’s all over the place. When we shut down the dining room and the lights are off back here, it’s wherever they can stumble.
Q: Are you a little hyperactive?
A: For sure. I swear, if you’ve grown up in this industry, it will drive you nuts. You will be crazy by the time you’re my age.
Q: As Glenn Johnson, aka Glenn Polski, director of operations, and Mike Kingsbury, chairman of the board, probably told you, I had a little incident with a security guy the day I was on the food truck. The security guy came out to assess whether or not I was a “security threat” — his phrase — and to tell me that I was not allowed to shoot video of the building. Did he have your permission to be on your food truck?
A: Hell no! Was it this guy’s first day on the job? Is he out of his mind? Glenn and Mike were pretty upset that guy came after you. They told me they didn’t step in because you were handling the situation. But if you had needed them, they would’ve been right there. Glenn loves you; you’re Glenn’s hero.
Q: How is working with Anthony?
A: I need to buy mass quantities of Ritalin. Luckily, he’s in a business where his flamboyant personality is an attraction, not a distraction.
Q: What did you think of the food truck when Anthony thought that was a way to go?
A: I thought it had a lot of potential. I worked for my dad, the late Willard Polski, and every generation has good ideas, and you need to adjust and move on or you’re going to be left.
Q: How many of Market’s 70 years have you been here?
A: Fifty-four and, you know, it seems like maybe 10. Of course, there are problems and tribulations you go through in business. It has its ups and downs. All and all, it’s been a remarkable life. I came out with a book in December that’s my legacy to my sons, the restaurant and Minneapolis. I feel it’s not what you do in life, but what you leave behind.
Q: Are you lucky that only one of your sons was interested in the restaurant?
A: My other son is an actor. He’s a graduate of the [University of ]Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Program. He didn’t have the right stuff for the restaurant business. If someone came in and said, “Max, I want a bottle of barbecue sauce, instead of saying, That’ll be $5, he’d say, Here you go. So I had to explain to him that we need to take in money to pay our bills.
Q: And you don’t have a pig on your car?
A: I’m not crazy. I’m older. I don’t want you to know where I’m coming or going. Anonymity is a nice thing.
Q: Your son’s not worried about that, is he?
A: No. I guess if I was in my thirties I wouldn’t care either.