News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Food truck cuisine tempts diners

Virtually overnight the number of food trucks in Sisters doubled when The Barn opened last week after a “soft” opening on November 4. The project, begun almost a year ago, looks like it has been a fixture at Main and Fir for years. That’s due in part to its architecture and design plan, giving the appearance of a farm building that may have been renovated and converted for food and beverage.

In fact, it’s brand-spanking new from the ground up, the dream of Daniel and Kelly St. Lawrence. The couple have owned and operated Boone Dog Pizza for three years, and were the anchor tenant at Eurosports’ Food Cart Garden until this month. The Barn is a mixed-use dining and drinking enterprise with an enclosed bar and commissary kitchen. The remaining feature will be an outdoor music stage planned for weekend events beginning next spring, which will complete the 10,000-square-foot site.

Boone Dog Pizza relocated to The Barn and is joined by Pop’s Southern BBQ, Chulitas, and Wrap Star whose specialty is global fusion. Wrap Star’s truck will take up residence in two weeks. Chulitas Juice Bar gained fame in Bend with its Mexican-style aguas frescas. The owners, Olivia Carrasco and Edgar Tapia, typify the creative entrepreneurs who dominate food trucks.

Pop’s is owned by Shannon Fuller and John “Pops” Guzman, who worked as a chef in a five-star Houston eatery. Like Daniel and Kelly, Olivia, Edgar, Shannon, and “Pops” are young —in their 20s and 30s — and ambitious, willing risk-takers, not interested in traditional restaurant operations. It’s labor-intensive work and days can easily run 12 hours.

Pop’s, coming over from Bend, brings more southern cooking to town including brisket, pulled pork, house-made chips, roasted poblano slaw, and chachos. The common thread running through all of Sisters’ food trucks is fresh — and for the most part organic — ingredients, with much of it locally sourced.

Nationwide there were 24,602 food trucks in the U.S. as of January according to market analysts IBIS World. The number of food trucks are growing annually at 7.5 percent, but took a huge hit in 2020 — the year of COVID — dropping from $1.4 billion in volume in 2019 to $1.24 billion. But that is a much smaller percentage loss than all restaurants taken as a whole, whose sales declined 22 percent last year. Food trucks are more resilient, and with their small, mobile operations they are by definition nimble and flexible.

Mask mandates and other COVID-19 abatement measures hit indoor dining establishments hard. As nearly every food truck diner eats either outside or takes the food home, government restrictions have not been as painful to their bottom line. The Barn does provide indoor seating on two levels for 50, and outside they can comfortably seat 75.

A few blocks away, Eurosports owner Brad Boyd recently revamped the outdoor patio with 14 new state-of-the-art propane fire tables, each seating four persons. That brings to some 100 the number of patrons who can be seated. Boyd says he is screening replacements for Boone Dog’s spot in the Garden and expects to have a truck in place by spring.

“I’m looking for a good fit, one that complements the entire food cart atmosphere in Sisters,” Boyd said.

Eurosports’ existing trucks are Coco Loco, whose bread-and-butter is their signature fish tacos, one of about 10 regular choices including vegan tacos. The other truck is Wonderland Chicken Co. whose specialty is Nashville-style chicken sandwiches. Locals apparently crave their loaded mac ‘n cheese.

When watching a stream of diners last Saturday and Sunday at both locations, The Nugget observed that Sisters street food followed national characteristics. Per IBIS, 18- to 34-year-olds make up 47 percent of customers, followed by the 35 to 44 age group.

The Sisters food truck scene is influenced by Portland, considered the best place in the country to own a food truck according to Food Truck Nation. Unlike Portland, getting a food truck up and operational in Sisters is comparatively easy, with fewer regulatory barriers to entry.

Seems that food trucks and beer are married at the hip. When asked, all the food truck operators we visited said that during lunch, food is ordered first followed by beer. It’s the reverse for dinner. The Barn has 12 taps and a full liquor license. Eurosports offers six brews and ciders on tap and 10 to 12 by can.

The Barn will add to Sisters’ workforce with approximately 25 employees on the site that includes four fire pits and a game yard. Two 14-foot infrared heaters will make year-round use possible, and from what we know about Sisters folk, winter will be no deterrence to fun.

Questioned about pulling it all together, Kelly St. Lawrence, mom of a 4-year-old and 6-month-old infant born during the project, said, “It was all-consuming, a labor of love, and we’re excited now to open the doors.”

Both food courts welcome well-behaved canines.


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