Tap rooms and food trucks: a perfect match

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February 22, 2013
By: Ben Johnson
The Hola Arepa food truck.
File photo
Ben Johnson

Tap rooms and food trucks are teaming up to take over the Minneapolis dining scene.

The two recently-legal concepts have been multiplying throughout the city as consumers flock to the newest trends in urban dining. Over the last 11 months five taprooms have opened in Minneapolis, and the number of food trucks the city has licensed has more than quadrupled — from 10 to 43 — since it first started issuing permits for them in 2010.

The two blossoming niches have worked together as they've grown together, and over the last year a mutually beneficial partnership has formed to help fill each other's needs.

A stipulation in Minneapolis food truck licenses requires all food trucks to be open for at least 150 days out of the year, and obviously there are not many ideal, pedestrian-friendly days for food trucks during the harsh Minnesota winters. Also the mob of food trucks that fill downtown for the weekday lunch rush has angered many downtown restaurant owners, so finding additional places to park has become an important piece in resolving the dispute.

“We see it as a great outlet to partner with tap rooms, and it's been tremendously successful so far,” said John Levy, founder of the Minnesota Food Truck Association and co-owner of the AZ Canteen food truck. “We've been looking for ways to expand our foot print, to figure out other places and other times we can be out on the street selling stuff, and the tap rooms have been one of those ways.”

Breweries that want to open a tap room often do not have the space, money or experience needed to build an in-house kitchen, but without offering some food it is tough to get customers to stick around for more than a pint or two.

“We're not licensed to prepare food and we really don't have space for it in our facility,” said Jay Diley, an ambassador at large for Fulton Brewing. “The food trucks offer a tremendous amount of variety and excellent food, and our customers seem to love it.”

 Fulton had the Barrio food truck on site when they became the first tap room to open in Minneapolis on March 10 of last year. Originally Fulton only invited food trucks to come for Twins games and private events, but when the season ended and demand maintained they decided to invite one every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

No money exchanges hands between tap rooms and food trucks. Tap rooms simply extend invitations for certain days and the food trucks come, park, and serve food. This is different from most festivals and events where typically food trucks are charged to vend.

“If it was up to me I'd go park at each of the four or five tap rooms once or twice a month,” said Steve Ramlow, who owns Simply Steve's food truck. “Plus they're always willing to trade you beer for food, which is nice.”

Ramlow added that a night spent outside of a tap room is usually more lucrative than a downtown lunch rush, but there's higher overhead because he typically spends much more time parked outside of tap rooms.

Not all new breweries are outsourcing their food needs, or offering food at all. Northbound Smokehouse opened at the end of September, offering their own craft brews alongside a full menu of smoked delectables and Northgate Brewing opened in northeast Minneapolis on January 28. Northgate  will initially be only offering on site growler sales and distributing to local restaurants. They were unsure if a taproom was in their future when asked about it in mid-January.

For now it does seem as though most new breweries are opting to go the tap room route. Fulton, Indeed, Harriet, Dangerous Man and 612Brew were the first five to open, with others rumored to be sniffing around northeast Minneapolis for locations.

“We have 6,000-square-feet and it's all for brewing,” said Diley. “It's a straight-up symbiotic relationship with the food trucks, and frankly we couldn't be more delighted with the arrangement.”