Smoke & Bones at 1 New Haven Ave. opened in November 2011 with eight employees.
Owner Mike Grant quickly had to hire 10 more staffers.
Now the place is so busy Grant has made Smoke & Bones mobile.
On July 16, Grant unveiled the newest addition to the Smoke & Bones restaurant — a food truck.
“We’ve been a lot busier than we expected,” Grant said.
The truck offers the same slow-cooked pork and chicken sandwiches found at the restaurant, along with smoked sausage, salads and beef brisket. Grant decked out the truck’s kitchen with a deep fryer so customers could also enjoy dishes like fried chicken, shrimp and catfish.
Everything is made on site, aside from the barbecue meats, which must be prepared the day before in the main shop’s smokers.
“It’s always fresh, it’s always homemade. It’s still the same quality as the restaurant, except served out of a truck,” Grant said.
The food truck sits on Bridgeport Avenue in Shelton, in the lot next to Blanchette Sporting Goods. The location is ideal, Grant said, because it’s close employees at nearby office buildings, shops, and companies that line the heavily developed avenue.
Such customers “may not have enough time during their lunch breaks to come down to Derby,” Grant said.
The truck is open for lunch hours, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m Monday through Friday.
Daniel and Iraida Reyes-Monroe and their two daughters, Athena and Alani, of Shelton were also passing through when they spotted the food truck. Iraida said this was the first they had heard about the Smoke & Bones restaurant and food truck.
The Food Truck Trend
The Smoke & Bones is one of the latest restaurants to join in the food truck frenzy that’s taken the nation by storm.
There are 34 active food vendors in the Lower Naugatuck Valley alone, according to the Naugatuck Valley Health District.
Plus, numerous food trucks can be found on the crowded streets of major cities like Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago and Washington D.C.
Customers now have the luxury of enjoying gourmet meals like sushi, barbecue and exotic foods without going to a sit-down restaurant.
A National Restaurant Association survey of 1,004 American adults in 2011 showed that 59 percent of Americans would visit a food truck if their favorite restaurant offered one, a 12 percent increase from just one year ago.
Results from the survey (see chart) also showed that customers who saw food carts popping up in their communities were mainly from the Northeast (24 percent) and the West (29 percent).
The popularity of grab-and-go cuisine has also taken to the web. Websites like FoodTruckTalk.com have listings of various food trucks across the country, along with photos and space for people to leave comments about their experiences.
One food truck fan even devoted a Tumblr page to photos of unique food trucks spotted in the Los Angeles area, complete with menu lists.
Annika Stensson, Director of Media Relations at the National Restaurant Association, told the Valley Indy that food trucks “are not a new concept in the restaurant universe,” but have been getting popular over the past several years for many reasons, one being affordability.
“They have offered businesses opportunities during the economic downturn when it was challenging for entrepreneurs to get access to credit and financing to launch a brick-and-mortar restaurant or expand an existing one,” Stensson said.
Beginning entrepreneurs can, therefore, save money by opening a food truck as opposed to opening a full restaurant. Existing restaurants gain the ability to expand their customer base and bring in additional revenue.
Another important factor is convenience. “Consumers often pick which restaurant to visit at any occasion—-what’s more convenient than having the restaurant come to you?” Stensson said.
Grant shared a similar view. “People are just becoming more creative with types of food they offer. They’re pushing all kinds of really high-end, five-star cuisine that yiou can get in the conveniency of your lunch break without having to sit down at a fancy restaurant.”
Finally, the individuality of food trucks has led to the success of mobile food service vendors.
Unlike standard hot dog and pretzel carts, food trucks typically offer a wider selection of menu items and signature dishes. The unique personalities of food vendors also make for a memorable customer experience.
Carolyn Schumacher, owner and operator of Carolyn’s Weenie Wagon in Seymour, for example, offers the Snappy Dog, a hot dog topped with bacon and peanut butter.
Schumacher’s weenie wagon, located at the former Seymour Lumber & Supply Co., has been cooking up comfort food for 19 years. Her food truck offers hamburgers and hot dogs, soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, kielbasi and more.
“You get the best kind of food out of these trucks, believe it or not,” she said. “You’re getting these big time, gourmet chefs, that work at a five star restaurants opening up little wagons, so you’re going to get a good product for a reasonable price.”
Schumacher says she’s still honored when people say her cooking tastes like the kind their mothers used to make.
“God gave me the gift of the tong,” she explained.
As for why she thinks her regular customers keep coming back, Schumacher said, “It’s the love I put into the food.”
Schumacher also makes it a point to get to know her customers by making small chit-chat while their food is cooking.
“I know all my customers by name,” she said. “Not only am I cooking your lunch, but I’m your friend. And thats important, you know?”
The weenie wagon’s success has now prompted Schumacher to expand. She is looking to move the business into a small building on Route 67 in Oxford.
Plans have yet to be finalized.