BBQ food business trucking along
Wayne and Marsia Hunter never planned on becoming food-carteurs. But here they are, selling pulled pork and chicken sandwiches and wraps from their Blue Smoke BBQ food truck throughout the North Shore and Lower Mainland all summer long.
Sitting by their already-setup food truck on a sunny Friday afternoon at Shipbuilders’ Square, waiting for the North Shore Night Market to bring the area alive with hungry visitors, it quickly becomes evident the couple has found a recipe for success: recognizing a good opportunity and making the most of it by working hard, effectively and with a positive can-do attitude.
“We got the idea at Christmas time when we were watching The Great Food Truck Race on the Food Network,” recalls Wayne, as friends, pier vendors and labourers setting up the market stop by the truck to say hello. Even competing food cart operators come by to ask for advice or perhaps to borrow their dolly.
“Marsia said, ‘I would like to do that and I said, ‘Well, why don’t you?’”
Marsia wasn’t completely sold at first that she could; but, after some pushing and some equipment purchasing commitments from Wayne, she said she would give it a try as long as Wayne promised to give her one more thing.
“I said, ‘I want you,’” says Marsia, chuckling as Wayne, a developer and entrepreneur, proceeds to list the activities he committed to giving up for one year to get the business going: fishing, golfing, playing cards with his buddies and attending to his other ventures.
Soon, the trailer was purchased on Craigslist and the truck bought in Chicago, while the logo was made in Argentina and the website designed in India. The development of the menu, however, took a little longer. Like any barbecuer of merit, Wayne can talk at length about the flavourology of his product — and in Blue Smoke BBQ’s case, the origin is the western side of North Carolina. His Thunder Sauce, he says, is tomato-based as opposed to vinegar and mustard, with deep ruby colouring and a thick luscious consistency which took many batches to perfect.
Settling on a brioche roll for the right bun was also a tough task, Marsia explains, as she wanted to find a bun that “could hold lots of stuff without it being too chewy like a pretzel or too soft like a McDonald’s bun.”
The pork, they say, is dry-rubbed overnight with a homemade spice blend before it is slowed cooked for 16 hours in a smoker oven; the spices are mixed to spec by a spice-master in Seattle and the coleslaw — a secret recipe Marsia developed over the years volunteering at the Seniors’ Centre at Parkgate Community Centre — is made with ingredients grown right in her garden.
All the food is locally produced, with the two shopping at local farms and farmers markets, including sellers at the Lonsdale Quay.
“The more local the better,” says Marsia. “We don’t need to know the pig’s name but we at least want to know from where it came from and what it was fed; that it was free from drugs.”
“It is important,” says Wayne, not only because it is more sustainable for the earth and healthier for the body but also because “it just tastes better.”
The proof is in the product, they say, and many seem to agree as the Hunters estimate about 60 to 70 per cent of their business is repeat customers. Their first paying-customer of the night is a third-timer named Margaret Carroll who made a special visit down to the pier to buy a Blue Smoke BBQ sandwich. “We love it,” says Carroll, referring to herself, neighbours and friends. “The sauce is really good and it is all really fresh. You can’t beat it.”
With Vancouver’s food cart industry blossoming and the North Van municipalities seemingly following its lead with the creation of four new markets, Wayne believes Blue Smoke BBQ is ahead of the curve.
“The night markets were a bit of a test by the district and the city to see how they would be received and I think it has been an overwhelming success,” he says.
“It almost feels like we are part of a gypsy tribe, here,” agrees Marsia. “If we need anything or need help with anything, we know we can ask people here. And the same goes for them to us.”
Ever the entrepreneur, Wayne already sees room for improvement and expansion. There are three types of food carts, he explains: the “corporate” carts; carts affiliated with a restaurant or a retired chef; and the mom-’n’-pop carts, like theirs, which he says makes up the majority of the industry.
“There is a tremendous need for carts like us to have a place we can park our trucks and prepare our food,” says Wayne. “It is too impractical for us to cook out of our house so we are using extra space at a caterer’s. But for many it is really hard to find a restaurant or caterer willing to let you use their kitchen.”
He says by next season, he would like to open a fully-licensed commissary with proper cooking infrastructure, fridges, storage space and parking spots where food-carteurs can prepare their food. In addition, Wayne would also like to franchise Blue Smoke BBQ in Australia, as the City of Sydney is currently running food-carteurs trials.
“It is just such a fun business to be in, serving people up tasty food,” concludes Marsia. “And it has been great doing it along side him.”
For more info on Blue Smoke BBQ or to check out their schedule visit: www.bluesmokebbq.ca.