Between mid-March and April of this year, Kelly Morales sold 1,880 pints of cans and 860 pints of home-brewed beer from Beehive Taphouse, a mobile bar that anchors her food cart in Salem, Oregon.

When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, Morales expected customers to go elsewhere to fill their grits. But when local beer bars closed and breweries had fewer places to sell kegs, we became the cool new place in town, says Morales, whose group employs 13 food vendors in Beehive Station.

Guests left Washington State for the Beehive to enjoy Mac & Jack’s African Amber, a red beer available upon request. On a cold, wet January day, guests drank beer while snuggled (as much as possible) in a heated tent; small groups shared umbrellas.

We were equipped to handle this whole pandemic, with open space and low ceilings, Morales says. My grades are higher than the same period last year. That’s amazing.

Thanks to their inherent flexibility and outdoor service, supply trucks and mobile bars are expected to blow the stars out of the sky when it comes to food and drink in the event of a pandemic. But Morales’ success is not universal.

The Beehive Taphouse in Salem, Oregon / Photo courtesy of The Beehive Taphouse.

Due to a patchwork of national and local laws, expanding traffic, a faltering event industry and a host of other factors, many vendors are struggling.

According to Matt Geller, founder of the National Food Truck Association, at least a third of the food trucks in Los Angeles are at a dead end (think Cogie barbecue, not the old-fashioned Loncher). Others are waiting for the office staff and caterers to return.

The intersection of commerce on wheels and alcohol is a challenge. In most states, trucks and mobile bars can only be licensed for private events or sell alcohol through a hospitality license for festivals. Such licenses are relatively easy to obtain in New England, but nearly impossible in Alabama, said Corbin O’Reilly, co-founder of Tap Truck USA, a company that modernizes classic cars with traction lines.

Beehive Tapcart Beer / Photo courtesy of Beehive Tapcart.

Oregon is one of the few states in the country where beer, wine and alcohol may be delivered to trucks year-round. The catch: In Oregon, trucks must have a permanent address and may only sell alcohol from a fixed location.

During the Covid, many states relaxed laws on the sale of alcohol and cocktails in restaurants, but mobile commerce did not experience a similar boom.

I’ve seen rumors in some jurisdictions that trucks might serve beer and wine, but I don’t want to name names or jinx them, Geller says.

In states like California, trucks can work with bars and breweries to help them meet the new requirements for serving food with alcohol. In New York, no dice. From July 2020, bars will be able to sell products made in their own kitchens.

April Williams of À La Cart in Orlando, Florida / Photo : Austin Burke

Food and drink, capsule

The ambiguity of Williams’ business model in April at À La Cart in Orlando likely kept Florida authorities from closing the bar, as well as other bars in the state. La Carte is an Oregon-style tanker truck housed in a spacious brick laundry room.

Nobody in Florida knows what to do with us. Are we a restaurant or a bar? My bar doesn’t serve food, but it’s part of the team, says co-owner Williams.

As long as the restaurant truck goes to La Carte, it can sell beer, wine and cider. Out of concern for worker safety, four of the five trucks were closed early in the morning, but over the course of the summer, outdoor seating slowly returned.

An empty patio in À La Cart / Photo courtesy of Austin Burke.

We haven’t had to for a long time. The infantrymen kept us alive, Williams said. We’ve always had them, but it’s funny how many people thought they couldn’t fill them here. Grunts and banks now account for 20-25% of our business.

But things are not going well. The large influx of La Carte customers has not yet returned. Williams doesn’t want to bring back the popular movie nights and beer dinners for fear of overcrowding.

This is Florida, she said, referring to the state’s soft rules on social distance.

Leigh Davison in front of his foodtruck / photo courtesy of Lucky Bird

Partnership with brewers

John Or is also limping because of the pandemic. In March 2020, the owner of The Fix on Wheels, a hamburger truck in Los Angeles, had six regular sources of income: Corporate dinners, catering, events and festivals, schools, private dinners and brasseries. Only the last two are left.

California breweries have long been required to serve food when selling beer. But many breweries have gotten around the law by allowing customers to bring their own food or order it to order. This practice was banned during Covid. They say trucks have more influence.

Every brewery is overloaded in terms of truck demand, and when the truck is empty, the brewery has to close, he says.

However, turnover is highly dependent on the individual breweries, the number of branches and their service policy.

Those who sign up at one of the three busiest breweries in Los Angeles can earn between $1,500 and $2,000 for four hours, plus tips for staff. In small breweries, it can fetch $500 a shift.

In Denver, two-year-old sandwich concept Lucky Bird Lee Davison started the year with a new booth in the food court and a calendar full of festivities for his truck. But 11 months after the start of the pandemic, 90% of Lucky Bird’s sales come from breweries.

Davison currently serves his famous Spicy Bird and Buffalo Blue Tenders sandwich in four breweries : 4 Nose, Cannonball Creek, Golden City and Dream Life. It will be added to the list on New Earth in the spring.

Winter is already slow here. Currently, breweries have a limited number of locations, and they’re not that busy, she says. Before the pandemic, I was 30 lines deep. Your adrenaline is pumping. But right now, people aren’t lining up.

photo courtesy of Booze Pops

Frozen Gap

This summer, Woody Norris says, snakes trained at one in three mailboxes in the suburbs of Charleston, South Carolina.

In 2016, Mr. Norris discovered a loophole in the state’s liquor law: When alcohol is frozen, it is considered food and can be sold legally from a truck. Since then, his company Booze Pops has grown to nine trucks of frozen cocktails and wine, candy and ice cream for kids.

When the pandemic hit, Norris’ sales increased 75% and he was able to hire the restaurant’s unemployed workers to outfit the restaurant with trucks and open new spaces.

Football moms have gone crazy over their kids, says Norris, an Army veteran and father who is also sober. We got a call and I said I was on my way, Mrs. Jones. Calm down. Calm down.

Norris continues to sell from his outposts in downtown Charleston on King and Anson Streets. My people are killing in the city. It’s being a bartender without making drinks, he says.

Kate Bolton, owner of Silver Julep / Photo courtesy of Silver Julep.

Adjusting the mobile boom

Norris occupies a special, somewhat uncertain place in the world of mobile beverages, which is dominated by trucks and trailers designed to serve drinks at events and festivals.

Since Ben Skora and Mark Wiseberg opened their Road Soda Airstream Bar nearly a decade ago, the duo has been on the road playing festivals eight months out of the year. They’ve partnered with brands to create about 10,000 handcrafted cocktails at events like Coachella, SXSW and Lollapalooza.

Last March, when news of the pandemic reached them, they were on their way to Aspen, Colorado. Their two trucks have been parked ever since, one in Southern California and the other in upstate New York.

Scorah and Wiseberg had ties to the industry and their own commercial kitchen and adapted quickly.

They first made ginger, lemon and turmeric vaccines for health professionals. They then developed ready-to-use cocktail mixers for their partners. In partnership with spirits brands, Skora produces and ships cocktail kits for influencer marketing, bar staff training, new product launches and virtual events.

It’s distracting, says Skora. We created a brand new company and learned how to work with the supply chain, with different bottles and how to keep all the shelves stable. I ship 30 boxes a day with FedEx. For the past six months, I’ve felt like I was running a fully functioning factory.

People have asked the emergency department to bring Road Soda for small events, but moving trailers is expensive. In addition, Scora claims that California Uniform does not authorize the holding of events. I don’t know when the big events will return, but our business model is different from other mobile bars. We depend on alcohol companies for our support, and their corporate responsibility is greater than ours, he says.

They don’t want to be responsible for the festival in case of a pandemic. Hopefully at some point brands will want to spend money on events again.

Kate Bolton is less concerned about what’s coming back. Bolton launched the 23-foot Silver Julep cocktail trailer in 2018. Based in Portland, Oregon, the company specializes in weddings and corporate events for companies like Nike, Adidas, and Intel. It also quickly moved into the production of homemade cocktail mixers.

Bolton sells about 100 bottles a week from their taproom, which now serves as a display case for their blenders and products from other local manufacturers. She also teaches virtual classes based on the trailer, such as. B. Festive syrup and the art of brewing for the Junior League and French course 75 for the Campaign for Equal Justice. Bolton supplies taps to several distilleries in Portland, increasing direct sales to consumers.

Instead of making hundreds of drinks for a wedding party or a sales team she’ll never see again, Bolton was able to build a real community with her new model.

I focus on the local market, and the fact that the mixers are alcohol-free has proven to be an advantage for me, she says. Families come by, get a blender, and come back the next week to tell me they had happy hour with their family, with a soda blender for the kids and something stronger for the adults. It is a beacon of hope in difficult times.

Mrs. Bolton, who is a mother herself, appreciates the change and plans to make it permanent. On reflection, she realized that she didn’t really appreciate the events with their long sales and frantic execution. Without Covid, this would never have happened, Bolton said. When you’re in business, you don’t stop to ask if I like it or not. It was totally unexpected.

Surprise is the new industry standard. So many contingencies, Mr. Morales said. Will people know we’re stuck here when others have had to close in? Will people continue to support us when it all comes out? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

According to Geller, the trucks need constant support from guests and authorities. I hope we as a society understand that alcohol is not the devil, he says. There are five food trucks parked in Marina del Rey every night, and I’d love to see a beer truck stop by. Something like that helps the food trucks get back on their feet.

It’s just about simplifying the process so trucks can serve alcohol without having to go to the city to get a license. If you could just fill out the online form, and boom, bring a keg to the event on private property, that would be huge. But we still have a long way to go.

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