Five years ago, David Stuck was building a food truck with no place to put it.
At that time Stuck could recall only two or three other trucks in the city, and so he was often met with strange looks from people unfamiliar with the food truck model.
“I was driving around asking people if I could park my food truck and they thought I was crazy,” said Stuck, who founded The Tin Kitchen with Nick Lischerong. “They had no idea what I was talking about. So I was actually kind of nervous, thinking, This isn’t going to work.”
Then he met with Todd and Suzie Ford, who had opened NoDa Brewing Co. the month before, in October 2011. Stuck needed a spot to operate, and the Fords needed food for their patrons. It made perfect sense for both parties, and NoDa Brewing became the first place to host The Tin Kitchen in regular rotation.
Fast forward five years, and you can now find The Tin Kitchen parked outside NoDa Brewing’s new production brewery every day. The truck serves its standard menu through the week, but on weekends they roll out Somethin’s Brewing, a menu featuring several dishes made with the brewery’s beer.
After opening their new facility in North End, the Fords again reached out to Stuck to see if he was interested in running a kitchen there. But after examining all that would entail, they decided a dedicated food truck would be a better option for everyone involved.
Sycamore Brewing does have a small kitchen where they prepare sandwiches, but it can take a backseat to the beer, said co-founder Justin Brigham. Wanting to see the space used to its full potential, the brewery recently welcomed Papi Queso Food Truck into the kitchen as part of a six-month pop-up collaboration.
“Working with Papi Queso felt pretty natural,” said Brigham. “They’re one of the best trucks in the city. It’s been really great having them on site. It allows for a little more creativity on their menu. They’re coming at it from a different angle with some pretty exciting uses of our beer, which is really refreshing.”
As the new home of South End’s popular Food Truck Fridays, the brewery has welcomed in some of the city’s best mobile dining options. And there have been some trucks that aren’t so reliable, noted Brigham.
With the new pop-up model, they can count on Papi Queso being behind the kitchen, slinging an everchanging selection of grilled cheeses. Once their six months is up, Sycamore Brewing may consider bringing someone else in to keep things fresh.
“We did structure it as a pop-up concept,” said Brigham. “We like the idea of getting other working partners to come in and take advantage of the kitchen as well.”
Rob Masone is no stranger to working in a brewery’s kitchen. In 2015, he left his position as executive chef at Heist Brewery to start the Twisted Eats by Kre8 food truck. But rather than driving around town in search of places to park, Masone partnered up with Wooden Robot Brewery in South End. His truck is parked outside the brewery Tuesday through Sunday, serving up a variety of dishes that are all made with Wooden Robot’s beer. Masone was the first food truck operator to partner up with a brewery in a more permanent fashion.
He won’t be the last, though. Lenny Boy Brewing recently partnered with the A Bao Time food truck. The truck had previously served out of the brewery weekly, but now you can find it at Lenny Boy’s new brewery from Wednesday through Sunday. From bites to brunch, Bloom serves a variety of items, some of which incorporate beer (like the Burn-Down Meatballs, which are braised in the brewery’s Burn Down Brown).
More than 100 food trucks roll around Charlotte looking for prime spots to serve, and no one bats an eye at the model like they did five years ago. But as competition heats up and breweries look for more consistent and reliable service, don’t be surprised to see more partnerships like these in the coming year.
Event of the Week
Cookies and Crafts Beer Festival
When: 2-5 p.m. or 6-9 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The Fillmore, 820 Hamilton St.
What: Pair craft beer and Girl Scout Cookies at the second annual Cookies and Crafts beer festival, held during two sessions at The Fillmore. More than 15 North Carolina breweries will pour at the event, with each brewery also serving a beer meant to pair with a specific cookie. Tickets are $30 for each session and allow for unlimited samples of beer and cookies. Details: www.fillmorecharlottenc.com.