Winter warriors: how food trucks brave Minnesota’s harshest season

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The MidNord Empanada Truck at the 2013 Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival // Photo by Aaron Davidson

There’s a local industry growing at a phenomenal rate. A decade ago, it was virtually non-existent; now there are over 100 entities. No, not breweries: We’re talking about food trucks. As the temperatures drop and the snow accumulates (hypothetically, at least), some of those 100-plus trucks will go into hibernation. Others, though, will layer up like the rest of us and brave the elements.

“We tried to open the first winter,” recalls Alec Duncan of Potter’s Pasties & Pies. “On December 3, [2011] it snowed four inches and we had three customers over the four-hour lunch period. That was it.” At that time, Potter’s Pasties was run out of a trailer, not a full-on food truck like they have now. After his first attempt at winter service fell flat, Duncan closed the trailer down and waited until spring to return to the streets.

He didn’t give in to winter all together, though; he learned from it. The next year, Duncan bought a truck and furnished it for the season. Now he offers year-round service, which, he says, helps build word of mouth because of the stability.

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Potter’s Pasties & Pies at the 2014 Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival // Photo by Wisch Photography

For many food trucks, the number of customers drops come winter, and with reduced traffic comes reduced income. That plus myriad other challenges are seen as a big deterrent to staying open year-round. Road conditions, truck conditions, frozen water and propane, vents and hoods buried in snow, salt wreaking havoc underneath the truck, mechanical issues like working with diesel fuel and steering rear-wheel drive vehicles through downtown streets: it’s a tough sell.

But some trucks have no choice. “Once we were putting in 60-plus hours per week this past summer, we ended up without other jobs to sustain us through the winter,” says Brett Drake, co-owner of Brooks High Beer Battered. Having the truck as his only source of income is challenging, he admits, but there are advantages. It’s easier to get into events and find parking spaces with less competition, for instance, and, adds co-owner Pete Toft, “You are able to gain a reputation amongst breweries, distilleries, and customers alike for always being around.”

Brooks High Beer Battered Featured Image

Brooks High Beer Battered co-owners Brett Drake, left, and Pete Toft // Photo by Hunter Johnson

Those trucks who choose the year-round option tend toward the comfort food route. Potter’s does not change their lineup of warm pasties, but Brooks High does adjust the menu for the season. “Our wild rice salad has become a wild rice casserole,” Toft says, noting that he adds spices to the dish and serves it hot.

Truck owners who opt to close come winter either have a second job, regular catering/delivery work, or a healthy savings account in order to support their taking the season off. Sometimes, though, none of those are options—especially for the hired hands who pitch in during warmer months. So truck owners have to make a decision: hibernate or power through. “We don’t necessarily have to operate during the winter months,” says Phil Gaffney of The MidNord Empanada Truck, “[But] this year our staff is brave and suggested we operate.”

The growing number of trucks in the Twin Cities means more trucks will be forced to stay open year-round in order to claim a territory and carve an audience. Sometimes, the bet ends up paying off without much of a downside. “So far, we’ve had an extended summer and it’s worked out well,” says Duncan of Potter’s Pasties. “People go outside when they know it won’t lead to some kind of permanent damage.”


Minnesota Food Trucks Open Year-Round

If you’re looking for a meal on four wheels this winter, check out the food trucks that operate year-round:

Did we miss a food truck that’s open during winter? Contact us at kgrauman (at) growlermag (dot) com to be added to this list.

 

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