By Gabe Saglie
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on November 12, 2013)
Alissa and Brian Parks are betting that eight wheels are better than four.
The couple driving what may be Santa Barbara’s most successful food truck – Georgia’s Smokehouse – has just expanded their fleet. As of last Thursday, two trucks, not just one, now canvas the streets of the South Coast and the Santa Ynez Valley. But they’re delivering the same thing: really good barbecue.
“The trucks are fraternal twins,” jests Mrs. Parks, 33, who’s taken the driver’s seat on the original truck.
Her husband, who gained local acclaim when he helmed the gourmet kitchen at the upscale Canary Hotel before the couple turned the engines on Georgia’s Smokehouse in March, is behind the wheel of their brand new vehicle. “He can parallel that thing like a Civic,” brags his wife. And he agrees with her playful family reference. “They’re similar but, like children, they’re different on the inside,” he says. “The newer truck has more storage space, so I can bring along bread for, say, 500 people.”
But the basic equipment inside the trucks – both were built by hand by an artisan mechanic in Montebello – is the same. Three griddles, two basket fryers, an oven, a fridge. The basics. But enough to crank out BBQ-inspired food that’s garnered them a loyal following day in and day out.
“We can easily make 16 different stops each week,” says Mrs. Parks. Regular rendezvous stops include Island Brewing Company in Carpinteria, Yardi Systems in Santa Barbara and Funk Zone hot spots like Carr Winery and Telegraph Brewing. They also pull up to local high school football games (and post-game parties), weddings, corporate events, and grand opening and anniversary parties. Family-style drop-offs have become popular, too. “For kids’ birthday parties, for example, where they don’t require our service or cleanup, we just show up with pre-order meals, plates, napkins, silverware, and take off,” says Mrs. Parks. Several local businesses have standing drop-off orders for their staff on a monthly basis.
The couple didn’t start off thinking they’d need two trucks to meet demand, but it didn’t take long. “As new business owners, you take in as much business as you can get when you open your doors,” says Chef Parks, 40. “But what happened within the first few weeks was that we had to turn away so many larger or public events than we wanted to do because we already had events on the books.”
The high-speed success of Georgia’s Smokehouse has much to do with brand personality. The truck – with its black and red façade and, most notably, the bubbly, pony-tailed, jean-clad gal that seems to beckon every time you drive by – is tough to ignore. “It’s nice to get honked at for a good reason,” laughs the chef.
But what keeps customers coming back is, no doubt, the consistently good comfort food – a concise, varied, affordably priced menu featuring items that are well-seasoned and slow-cooked over oak, hickory and applewood. The third-pound Burger, for example, comes with whiskey-caramelized onions and herb-roasted tomatoes, with add-on options that range from fried-egg to bacon. The Brisket Sandwich, smoked for 12 hours and set to rest overnight, is rubbed with homespun spices and topped with the chef’s private BBQ sauce. And the Pulled Pork Sammy is topped with a proprietary slaw of green cabbage, Granny Smith apples and an apple cider vinegar-oregano dressing. There are vegetarian options, too.
“Alissa and I run the trucks like it’s a brick-and-mortar on wheels, because that’s all we know,” says Mr. Parks. “And our staff knows everything, from every ingredient to the names of the regulars who come to our stops.” Georgia’s Smokehouse employs a staff of 10, and growing.
“And it’s a lot about the feedback,” adds his wife of 18 months. “We’ve learned so much from reading reviews and taking people’s feedback.”
All that feedback has become increasingly easier to gauge as Georgia’s Smokehouse presence on the streets has become bolstered by its active interactions on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. “Our business is sort of disconnected, but also really close,” says Mrs. Parks. “If there was ever a business that needs social media, it’s a food tuck.”
Georgia’s Smokehouse is now gearing up for holiday parties; for inquiries, and for an updated schedule of upcoming stops, click here.