When Soulcial Kitchen was announced in May, the concept had more arms than Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Mercy and Compassion. The business model includes a handful of food trucks, a food court, a cloud kitchen, a business incubator, pay-it-forward food stamps, and a converted DC-3 airplane on wheels called the Space Shuttle Café, which will be operational later this year . There were some changes three months later, but the mission remains intact. Here’s the latest.
The food trucks
To date (and due to many early inquiries), a food trailer from A Fine Swine and a food truck (aka Swine Force One) rolled onto the market almost simultaneously. David Stidham, co-founder of Soulcial Kitchen and owner of A Fine Swine, reports that the trucks are in high demand and are making appearances in several other venues in several stores in Metro East (car dealerships, large stores, etc.). Catering jobs were also a great source of income, he says.
Stidham says El Guaqo Taco, featuring Mexican cuisine, will hit the streets early next week. A smashburger concept, HammerJack’s Smash, will follow. Then look for Nashvegas Fried, a hot chicken concept. And “there’s a demand for a breakfast truck, so this could be the next one,” added Stidham.
The original building (a former dental office) has been demolished in favor of a building that requires less labor: the former Papa Mendi / Joe Boccardi building at 127 N. Belt East in Swansea, Illinois.
The property is 3 acres and will be home to Soulcial Park, a food truck park that will have a smaller footprint but will be similar in format to the 9 Mile Garden in Fenton. A pavilion, a beer garden and space for private outdoor events are planned.
When it opens in September, the building will serve as a commissioner for catering and food truck preparation. This is also where the pickup and delivery of grocery truck items can begin, says Stidham, as well as a business-focused packed lunch program. And since the former restaurant is already equipped with a bar and terrace, private events can also be booked. “The building is almost finished now,” says Stidham. “We are in the process of building the team.”
Stidham hopes to open Soulcial Park by October. “The idea is that our four to six trucks are out on the streets during the day, replenishing their stocks and then going to the park for dinner, ”he says.
Chef Chris Stein comes from southern Illinois and has returned home after extensive travels, including months in Vietnam, Yucatan and East Africa, where he staged in kitchens on the go. Stein attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and graduated with honors. During school breaks he staged in the kitchens of the Niche and Sidney Street Cafés under the James Beard Award-winning chefs Gerard Craft and Kevin Nashan, respectively. Upon graduation, Stein worked for the Wrigley family’s Santa Catalina Island Company on Catalina Island, eventually managing all of the kitchens the company operated there. He also taught and trained culinary interns from around the world.
Stein returned to St. Louis last year. Stidham says Stein is “all part” of Soulful Kitchen’s mission to give back and take care of others, and calls him “the perfect cook for the job”. There are already discussions about setting up an entrepreneurship program for food manufacturers and aspiring chefs. Retired Brigadier General John E. Michel, who worked with Stidham to develop the Soulful Kitchen concept, spoke to the Department of Labor about building a business model and implementing it across the country, says Stidham.
Stidham and Stein are currently developing the menus for three food trucks, starting with El Guaqo Taco. “Chris learned a lot about Mexican food on his travels,” says Stidham. “His side dishes are on another level and his carnitas tacos are so good they make me cry.”
The opening menu also includes barbacoa tacos with smoked beef, asada tacos with grilled chicken and specialties such as roasted vegetable tacos and pork belly tacos with grilled pineapple salsa and avocado crema.
“It’s so nice that I want to rub it in my hair,” Stidham jokes. “But seriously, between my skills as a pit master and his as a cook, I feel like we are capable of doing amazing things.”