For four years, Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub has been bringing people to South Minneapolis for handcrafted beer and well-smoked meats. But with dining space in the 80-person restaurant regularly maxed out, the business has been searching for a way to bring its food (and beer) to more people. Owner Jamie Robinson had been exploring options for growth for some time, namely between opening a second brewpub or expanding into catering. Instead, he chose a third route.
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Later this fall, likely in November, Northbound Smokehouse will expand into the food truck scene. The food truck will allow Northbound to expand its reach, and begin catering, at a fraction the cost of a second brick-and-mortar.
The food truck will split time between standard taproom, downtown, and event parking lots, and more traditional catered events. For private events, the brewpub is allowed to sell its beer in addition to food like its popular porketta sandwich, smoked brisket, or wings. The menu is prep-intensive and will be smoked in advance, then finished via flat top inside the truck. “It’s basically a mini version of the kitchen we have right now without the smoker,” Robinson explains
While food trucks are a common sight on Twin Cities streets these days, Robinson thinks Northbound will leap ahead of the pack by including servers who will go into taprooms to take orders and deliver food directly to customers. “Nothing against taprooms,” he says. “I think somewhere along the way people are going to notice that brewpubs have full service and taprooms don’t.”
Opening in the fall will highlight the benefit because taproom customers won’t have to step into the cold to order or pick up their food. The menu will be an abbreviated selection of their brick and mortar’s top sellers.
Robinson expects to park the brewpub’s food truck outside taprooms, creating a unique combination of businesses. While they seem to be competitors at eye level, he notes that brewpubs and production breweries don’t have many overlapping clients. “We’re not in liquor stores and we’re not on tap next to them [at the bar],” he says. Furthermore, since Northbound’s in-house tap lines are roughly 50% guest beers, it will further complement the experience of visiting their restaurant. The truck is a cost-effective way to get their product to more customers and to advertise their brand around town, in turn bringing thirsty beer customers back to their home on E. 38th Street.
“We hear a lot from people in Northeast: ‘I love Northbound, I just don’t ever get down that way.’ Now we can bring it to Northeast,” he says happily. And the waitstaff will even bring it inside where it’s warm.