Note: This week on Street Food Profiles we scoot to Baltimore to chat with the Kooper's Chowhound Burger Wagon, an offshoot of the 12-year-old restaurant Kooper's Tavern, known for feeding hungry Baltimoreans the best burgers in town. —The Mgmt.
The Team: Owners Patrick Russell and Bill Irvin, burger chefs Scott McCracken and Jack Taylor, and social networking feeder Willy Dely (aka Frenchy).
What's on the menu? Gourmet build-your-own-burgers made with your choice of Angus beef, Kobe beef, free-range turkey, veggie, or Gunpowder Bison & Trading's bison patties. We also serve the specialty burgers from our sister restaurant Kooper's Tavern (such as "Elvis Got the Blues" with Maytag blue cheese and apple-smoked bacon, and the "Charlie Brown," a glorious one-pounder) along with French fries or sweet potato fries (you can get a 50-50 fries with both), sodas, and daily homemade soups.
Location and hours? Baltimore and other parts of Maryland for lunch and dinner.
How long have you been street fooding? We started in August of 2009.
How has Twitter affected business? We are the rulers of Twitter and Facebook! They're perfect avenues for direct marketing and have enhanced communication and feedback from our guests.
Why a mobile business over brick-and-mortar? We have been in a classic "brick-and-mortar" business for over 12 years as Kooper's Tavern supplying hungry Baltimoreans with the city's best burgers. We wanted to open another location but just couldn't find the right spot.
So with all of the talk in Los Angeles, New York to Portland. It only made sense for us to try this business. We have an advantage many other food truck companies don't—a home base that's able to prep the food and keep the food in rotation. We can now provide the opportunity to businesses and the people of Baltimore to enjoy the same best burgers at their office.
Who are your typical customers? Office workers, tourist and lots of Kooper's regulars who ask for the Chowhound every week. We have seen a few of our NFL Ravens players and crew ordering the one-pounder Charlie Brown burger ("da biggest, baddest burger in the whole damn town!).
Describe a typical day from start to finish. Our prep chef of Kooper's Tavern arrives at 6 a.m. and hand-makes the burgers and preps the toppings. Our marketing manager Willy starts to send out the Twitter and Facebook updates so when you roll out of bed, you'll know exactly where the wagon will be that day.
The Burger Wagon team arrives at 9:30 a.m. to load the truck. Twitter feed and Facebook updates go out noting the Wagon has left the mothership and is headed to that day's destination. Once we arrive, a group is usually eagerly waiting already. We will rock out the day until about 3 p.m., then head back to the restaurant. We empty out the truck and send the product back to the kitchen and clean up our hound, then get ready for the night shift!
What were you doing before this? Making Baltimore's best burgers at Kooper's Tavern; drinking a lot of great beer and wine.
What makes your food so special? Can anything else like it be found in the city? Our entire product is fresh and hot. We make our burgers with our hearts every day. The only other place you can find such tasty burgers is in Fell's Point at our restaurant. As for now, there are a few vendors in the area selling hot dogs, pit beef (a Maryland thing) and some tacos.
How would you define "street food"? Street food is...street food is food obtainable from a streetside vendor, often from a makeshift or portable stall (as Wikipedia says). It's a really hard question that will need years to find a real answer!
The best street food city and why. Wow, interesting question. I would say Baltimore is because there's little to no competition and a growing amount of interest driven from the pages of the New York Times and food blogs across the county and on the West Coast. We would welcome more vendors in our great city.
Your comfort food after a long day? A nice hot taco or burrito. (New truck idea to match our other restaurant, Woody's Rum Bar.)
Advice for an aspiring vendor?
- First build a good truck, use great equipment and use a lot of lock tight, the road is bumpy and the equipment is not built for pot holes and slamming of the brakes.
- Be prepared to get every possible business license you can think of, and a few more.
- You must have some good nerves and be very fluid—you will piss off some people. Smoke gets sucked up in buildings, restaurants think you are encroaching on their guests. They all call police and permit officers and ask you to leave and get more permits.
- Serve only the best product quickly and with a smile, straight and simple.