Business booming at barbecue food truckMay 14, 2020
By ALLEN LAMAN
JASPER — While many businesses are laying off employees, Tim Flick has brought more on.
He needed a bigger team to bring his barbecue to the streets of Jasper.
Flick launched the city’s newest food truck, Oink Inc. Smokehouse, two weeks ago, in the midst of a global pandemic, to plug the hefty losses that his local foodservice LLC, Ticklebelly Hill, was experiencing in a socially distanced world.
Catering through Fueled Strength Meals used to make up 70% of the company’s income. Now, its future appears to be driven by an engine on four wheels — with the chance of a growing fleet taking over the area down the road.
“It was never going to happen,” Flick said of the dramatic shift in his operations. “If coronavirus wouldn’t have happened, this never would have happened.”
He’d long been interested in the food truck industry. He was exposed to successful concepts while working as a corporate chef and product specialist at a food distribution company, where he covered the Indianapolis and St. Louis markets.
He was envious of those who could hop on the trend locally after the Jasper Common Council signed off on a mobile food vendor ordinance in September. Business was booming at Ticklebelly Hill’s tendrils, though, and the move just couldn’t be made.
Fast forward to the beginning of the COVID-19 era. In three weeks time, Flick designed and implemented his idea for Oink Inc. Orders have been flying out of the trailer since May 1.
“Honestly, the way this food truck is turning out, it will actually rule the roost,” Flick said. “It will overtake catering as the biggest part of our business, at some point here, when we’re finally able to run the way we want to.”
Later, he added: “The reception to this truck has been mind-blowing to us. We sit back and just smile at the amount of people that are lined up to get barbecue. It’s been almost overwhelming.”
The truck has had to limit its hours because it routinely sells out of food. This is due to a combination of the broken pork and beef supply chains and Oink Inc.’s sharp rise in popularity.
Its menu is filled with all-natural brisket, chicken and ribs that are all smoked separately with their own unique woods. Oink Inc.’s sauces are also natural — and homemade — and the trailer’s offerings are rounded out with sides like baked beans and mac and cheese.
Food is prepared in a central kitchen and then taken on the road to the Schroeder Soccer Complex, where it is made to order and dished out on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., or when there’s no more grub to pile on plates.
The truck is set to revolutionize Flick’s business. It could also reshape how food is consumed in the city, as Oink Inc.’s owner aims to launch online ordering and delivery options in the near future.
“I think the coronavirus revolutionized the entire way we go out to eat,” Flick said. “And the way we dine, and the way we think about food and other things.”
He believes it will be a long time before people return to restaurants and crowded places like they did before COVID-19 began to spread. Survival is dependent on adaptation.
Oink Inc. will close during the winter months beginning in mid-November, and reopen at the beginning of March. Looking ahead, Flick said he has ideas for even more trucks that could one day operate in the area under the Ticklebelly umbrella.
He plans to launch another one in March.
“I’ve got about four concepts,” he explained. “I could do four trucks, and I’ve got menus. I’ve got one that I’ve already designed a name, a logo and a whole concept, and menu that I could roll out if I had the people and I was able to do it. Timeline, I could do it in a week.”
Flick explained that his staff is small; it consists of only five full-time employees and about seven part-timers. He didn’t want to lose them when Fueled Strength’s sales dropped.
He didn’t just find a way to keep them on.
He found a way to grow their numbers.
And he found a way for them to help their company blossom in uncertain times, charging confidently forward.
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