A few years ago, there was a feeling you could start almost any business you wanted in Revelstoke and it would flourish. A snowboard shop? Sure! Another massage therapy studio? Why not? – after all, the sky was the limit as far as tourism was concerned.
The times, it seems, have changed. Revelstoke Mountain Resort has five seasons under its belt. Residents and the business community have a much better idea what the new resort does and doesn’t mean.
Both Mike Brown of the new Taco Club food truck and Vance Shaw of the also new taqueria Casa Norte food trailer expressed nearly the same thing to me when I visited their new mobile restaurants last week.
For entrepreneurs Brown and Shaw, their business ventures are a pragmatic and flexible take on business in a seasonal tourism market. They’re also a means to an end: enjoying the Revelstoke Mountain lifestyle while paying the bills in an expensive town where many hustle hard just to get by.
I met with Brown and Shaw last week to find our more about their mobile kitchens. Here’s what they shared about their new ventures:
Times Review readers will be familiar with Vance Shaw. He’s been mentioned in our pages when profiled as a ski-flick director (Vshaw Productions), owner of Infinite Martial Arts studio and as a musician who plays local gigs.
The Redding, California native’s latest venture is Casa Norte, a home-made trailer kitchen.
“It started with the salsa,” Shaw tells me as he takes orders through a window of his shiny, forest-green trailer parked in the former Farwell Market parking lot.
Shaw often travels with friends to camp and surf on a property they co-own in Baja, Mexico. They’d practice making authentic Mexican food, and after a while he got good at his own trademark fresh salsa.
He hatched the idea of making and selling his own salsa. The glaring absence of a Mexican restaurant in Revelstoke made him consider his own. After talking it over with friends in the mobile food vending business, he decided to go for it. “A lot of it is just life,” he added. He worked construction to pay the bills, but work has slowed of late in Revelstoke following the completion of many of the recent big projects.
He got all of his permits in place just last week and opened up the next day.
Casa Norte serves fresh, authentic Mexican food, Shaw says, anchored around the staples of beans and rice. “No big mysteries there,” he said. The key is keeping it fresh and home-made.
He stays away from the Tex-Mex hybrid more common in Canada and hopes he can win over fans for his home-made food in Revelstoke.
There are seven items on the menu – if they run out of something, it’s done for the day. We try the Supremo burrito ($7) and the Supremo quesadilla ($6) and both agree it’s a welcome addition. (Ever have the ‘What-Revelstoke-needs-is-a __________’ conversation? A Mexican restaurant was atop my list.)
For now, Casa Norte is located at the Farwell Market parking area Tuesdays through Fridays from before lunch to around 6 p.m. He’s also working on a location for weekends and the winter.
Shaw also serves at the Revelstoke Farm & Craft Market on Saturdays (not in the trailer – no motorized vending allowed in Grizzly Plaza).
His plan to create and sell his signature fresh salsa is underway – and is available at the stand.
Entrepreneurs and former room-mates Mike Brown and business partner Reilly Geidt are behind the Taco Club mobile food truck.
Brown has lived in Revelstoke for about three years. He moved from Ontario for the ski and bike lifestyle. Since then he’s worked at restaurants and through Okanagan College. He’s done party promotions through his business Astral Mountain Productions and also worked as a consultant in the social sector. He got the second credit on the city’s recent Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Like many of Revelstoke’s new wave of underemployed transplants here for the lifestyle, Brown was searching for something flexible and viable, and explored the concept of a food truck.
The upsides are multi-fold; the trucks can take you where the business is each season, and you’re not forced to carry overhead expenses through the shoulder seasons.
Brown and Geidt spent the winter cooking up Mexican food for their friends and were getting pretty good at it. They also eyed the conspicuous lack of a dedicated Mexican restaurant in town. “We were looking for something creative to do, and we just looked at each other one day and said let’s do this,” Brown said.
They converted the used Purolator Van themselves. Geidt, a carpenter, added a full kitchen from pieces they collected on trips to the Okanagan and the Lower Mainland. Its profile is the most striking; the propane generator is custom-welded to the front of the truck. It’s white with a chalkboard menu on the side. A custom paint job is in the works, Brown tells me.
“We managed to get it together at the end of June,” he said. They’ve hit the festival circuit since then, travelling around the Kootenays, Okanagan and to the Lower Mainland.
Other than a house party, they haven’t made their debut in Revelstoke, but are hoping to open up in the next few weeks. “Our ultimate goal is to sell from a stable location in Revelstoke,” Brown said. They’re currently scouting around for a spot on a private lot. They hope to work into other niches here, including the late-night crowd and at special events.
The Taco Club wasn’t operating when I visited, so I’ll have to settle for a description now.
“We make everything fresh,” Brown said. “We both love to cook.” Their menu focuses on carnita-style braised fish and pork tacos and burritos. “Pork and fish just make amazing tacos,” explains Brown, saying they decided against beef and chicken more prevalent in north-of-the-border interpretations of Mexican cuisine.
They also serve a breakfast burrito, vegetarian tacos and burritos and organic chocolate energy bliss balls. Prices range from $10 for a pork burrito to $5 for a single taco.
Brown believes the food truck model can benefit all merchants in Revelstoke, comparing them to the successful Revelstoke Farm & Craft Market that brings hordes of shoppers downtown on Saturdays. “I think ultimately food trucks can really help out other businesses. They bring people to the street,” he said. “At that point they’re out and walking around.”
Food truck permit status
Food trucks have exploded in popularity in the past few years. Search any North American metropolitan centre worth its salt and pepper and you’ll find all kinds of websites reviewing, locating and extolling the virtues of the mobile food phenomenon. The interest is broad; food truck festivals, celebrity chef trucks and even a reality TV show where food truck teams compete for supremacy.
Also prominent, however, are inevitable conflicts. Stationary restaurants complain about unfair competition – they have to pay rent and taxes. Municipalities seek equitable ways to licence and regulate the industry. Food trucks vie for real estate.
Times Review readers will remember a public battle between city hall and the owner of the Scratch food cart in Grizzly Plaza after it was found to be in contravention of its mobile vending licence.
So, what’s the City of Revelstoke’s position on the food trucks?
Currently, the city’s mobile vendor licence sets out the rules. It covers all kinds of itinerant vendors. There’s a long list of requirements with a few key details.
Mobile food vendors can only stay in a location on a public location for two days a week, but they can set up on private property.
City planning director John Guenther was positive about the new developments, saying the trucks could be a net benefit to the city. “It adds value, just like the Farmers’ Market does,” Guenther said. “But you have to be careful of the impact on the established businesses that pay taxes of course.”
If they’re coming to Revelstoke, it’s a good time to explore policies on managing the foot truck trend. “It could be that we look at some options like that and then maybe provide for service hook-ups,” he said.