One of the trickiest angles in the world of taprooms and cocktail rooms is the integration of food. The right eats can entice guests to come back for a second, or third, or fourth beverage as a quick nip unfolds into a pleasant meal. The contrary is also true: Working with food trucks that serve forgettable fare or don’t reliably show up can depress business inside.
Sociable Cider Werks in Northeast Minneapolis pioneered one of the area’s longest standing and best known food-and-drink relationships by teaming up with chef Ian Gray’s Curious Goat truck, an arrangement that ended when the Goat moved to Modist Brewing in March 2017 (the food truck closed its window for good last month). A similar partnership with Red River Kitchen ended recently as the latter rebalanced the food truck aspect of their business.
Sociable’s newest answer to the food problem? An on-site, insulated (and air conditioned), trailer-based kitchen that will be opened up to a new up-and-coming chef every six months. The first chef tenant will be Yia Vang, who has made a name for himself with his innovative Hmong-inspired fare served up at his Union Kitchen pop-up events.
The new plan at Sociable combines some of the advantages of a built-in kitchen (predictable hours, a permanent on-site location) with the advantages of food trucks (innovative chefs, rotating fare, separate but supportive social media and other marketing). Other breweries have taken similar tacks, including Fulton Brewing, which purchased their own permanent food trailer in 2017, and Pryes Brewing, which operates a rotating guest kitchen inside their taproom.
“One of the issues we have had is a lack of consistency in food trucks,” says Jim Watkins, Sociable’s co-founder and managing director. “We want a place where people can come and meet friends. We don’t have TVs, so building that kind of a space is really important to our business and our brand; food [ended up being] a lot more important than what we expected it to be.”
Vang’s Hmong fare will be adapted to complement the usual brutality of Minnesota’s cold winters, emphasizing grilled yakitori skewers and noodle dishes including pho, khao poon (a spicy rice-noodle soup pronounced kah-PONE), and khao soi (with wheat-based noodles).
“When we started doing our food tent outside of [Sociable], we didn’t intend to match their food, we just did what we did: rice bowls, noodle bowls, and different kinds of grilled meat,” recalls Vang, who has done several pop-ups at the taproom. “But we found out that just really worked; a lot of Hmong food goes really well with light beer, and with Sociable, a lot of their [grafs] are crisp and light and go well with spicier food. People would come out for some Hmong sausage and sticky rice with hot sauce, and then they’d find themselves going back inside for more [grafs].”
Vang says he’d like to give his Sociable residency a new brand identity, but that decision won’t be made for a couple of weeks. Watkins is hoping for a late November/early December opening, but that’s dependent on receiving and commissioning the insulated trailer.