Beer, chow show mutually useful »Albuquerque Journal
Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
When the sun disappears from view
One weeknight, Zachary Gould was sitting at a picnic table on the crowded deck of Marble Brewery with a few friends, a pint and a large helping of spiced french fries.
The beer came from the Downtown Albuquerque Brewery; the food came from the supper truck, a mobile kitchen unit that was parked in front of it.
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Gould was one of the customers who kept the supper truck busy. A steady stream of guests lined up in front of the truck to order something from the “Southern Fusion” kitchen – fried chicken rolls, barbecue beef tacos, shrimp and grits, and French fries for those craving for salt and fat.
For Gould, a frequent brewery visitor, access to food in taprooms like Marble’s has become an integral part of the experience.
“There were times when I went to breweries and there wasn’t a food truck and I left,” he said.
Everyone knows by now that we are in the midst of a craft beer boom, both nationally and locally. According to the Brewers Association, a national industry group, craft beer sales in the United States rose 17.2 percent in 2013. Its sales of $ 14.3 billion account for nearly 8 percent of the total beer market.
There are around 20 different craft breweries in the greater Albuquerque area today, and the number continues to grow. Chris Goblet of the New Mexico Brewers Guild said he knew of 10 more at plants across town.
For some of the most established companies, the battle is not to attract customers but to produce enough beer to keep up with demand. So why add a restaurant business to the equation?
“We love having food for our customers,” says Amberley Rice, Marble’s director of marketing, “but we don’t necessarily want to be the ones to make it.”
In what is often referred to as “symbiotic” relationships, many craft breweries here and across the country turn to food trucks to cater to their hungry customers. Trucks regularly park outside of Marble, Tractor and La Cumbre.
The pairing of two trending industries in Albuquerque seems to work for both sides.
“It definitely helped keep the trucks going to the breweries in business, and it helps keep brewery overheads down as they don’t have to worry about a commercial kitchen and all of the staff (or those associated with it Inspections and maintenance), ”said Pat Humpf, a food truck owner from Albuquerque who helps coordinate truck gigs through the ABQ Food Trucks cooperation.
While Marble sells a few snacks behind its bar – groceries currently sourced from the nearby Cocina Azul restaurant – it started incorporating food trucks a few years ago after Marble co-owner / master brewer Ted Rice stumbled upon some great tacos.
“One day I was driving down South Broadway and I stopped at this food truck and fell in love with all the Mexican street tacos,” he recalls. “I invited you to park in front of our house.”
This truck, Chicharroneria Don Choche, is now part of Marble’s regular rotation of food truck visitors. Others are Soobak Foods (Korean soul food) and The Supper Truck.
The owner of the Supper Truck, Amy Black, says that food trucks “stimulate people’s palates and are more creative and eccentric with their food,” and that they generally appeal to the same customers as microbreweries.
“I think it fits perfectly with the newer, hip food trucks,” she said. “(Craft beer fans are) young, wealthy, fun people (who) like to hang out, and the same people like to eat on food trucks.”
Humpf said the local range of mobile grocery vendors fills many niches. Gourmet burger. Pasta. Crepes.
“If you can get it at a restaurant, you can probably get it from one of the trucks (here),” he said.
There are currently around 90 to 100 mobile food units operating in Albuquerque, according to the city’s health department. While the craft beer revolution didn’t spawn the Albuquerque food truck scene, it was certainly a boon.
“I don’t think the Albuquerque food truck scene would be this dynamic without the craft brew scene,” said Goblet.
“Stick with the beer”
Many breweries in Albuquerque naturally make their own food. Some go with simple sandwich-based menus; others strive for a legitimate dining experience. The Stumbling Ox, for example, calls itself a gastropub and has grilled salmon with banana leaves on its menu. Meanwhile, the comfort food in the New Mexico style of the Nexus Brewery attracted a visit from celebrity chef Guy Fieri and the TV show “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives”.
But the owners of Albuquerque’s upcoming Red Door Brewing Co. never seriously considered this option, especially knowing they could tap into many local food truck sources.
“We don’t know anything about menu design, we don’t know anything about purchasing or menu pricing,” said Matt Biggs, managing partner of Red Door. “We just wanted to stick with the beer.”
Red Door plans to visit the location with a rotating cast of food trucks. Biggs said the strategy benefits everyone involved. Red Door provides electricity and the public. In return, the trucks offer a kitchen and so much variety that customers don’t “get stuck with one type” every time they visit. It is just as important that the trucks offer another way of reaching customers.
“Breweries actually benefit from the marketing side, too,” he said. “They have independent organizations that are driving the brewery forward. … It’s a very nice relationship between the two industries. “
According to social media director Geraldine Lucero, La Cumbre has often expressed the value of the partnership. When a planned food truck shift somehow goes unfulfilled, “we’ve seen people leave the taproom after a beer or not stay at all because there’s no food,” she said.
Brewery gigs are among the most lucrative – and therefore most sought-after – locations for local food trucks.
Humpf said a nine-hour brewery freeze could translate into $ 1,200 in sales. By comparison, he estimated that the average lunchtime service equates to revenue of $ 125 to $ 150 for about two hours.
Louis Metillo founded Adoughbe Pizza six months ago with the aim of working in local breweries. Without that carrot, he says, he might not have started at all. Adoughbe works three weekly shifts at La Cumbre, which make up about 75 percent of the total trucking business.
“There has never been a lack of work,” says Metillo, who runs the truck with partner Lela Dominey.
Of course, it’s only good work if you get it. Breweries want to park more trucks than there is space or actual need, and the competition is known to create tension.
Black of The Supper Truck said salespeople used to argue over parking at Tractor in Nob Hill, so they worked on creating a shift schedule that they believed management was helping to adhere to.
Amberley Rice at Marble said there was even a waiting list of sellers looking to join Marble’s truck rotation. Owners have campaigned for shifts, touting their existing fan base or award-winning food. But Marble makes its decisions based on a number of factors, she said, including food, personalities, and whether the truck adds to the community vibe the brewery wants to provide.
“Some trucks just don’t fit. We meet and talk and I try the food and there’s nothing wrong with the trucks, but that’s not what we try in Marble, ”she said.
Marble’s food strategy seems to have paid off – at least when it comes to customer Logan Gillespie.
“Often,” said Gillespie recently from Marble’s terrace, “I come here just to eat, and the beer is the advantage.”