Late last decade, Matt Melvin, a chef and baker who had worked for a lot of restaurants, started thinking about opening his own place.
But he and his wife, Maggie, were looking at an upfront investment of up $200,000, and it was a hurdle they couldn’t get over. Things started looking up last year, when Brian Johnson got a hold of him.
Johnson, who heard about Melvin’s hopes from a mutual friend, is a partner in Collaborative Design Architects. He and two other partners, Jeff Kanning and Nick Pancheau, had started an offshoot of CDA called Arch 406 (see related story), to provide design and contractor services for clients with smaller projects than CDA usually handles.
One thing they had decided to focus on was tiny homes, but not just for living in. They wanted to build second homes and guest homes, home offices, studios and—this is where Melvin comes in—custom food trucks.
Johnson said Melvin was a little skeptical at first, but he didn’t need much convincing.
“Matt just took this and ran with it and he’s really excited about it,” Johnson said.
The result is a completely custom-designed mobile bakery and kitchen, which Melvin hopes to have on the street by late April or early May.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll be the only mobile bakery in the Pacific Northwest,” he said.
Rudeboys, as the business will be called, will be making four kinds of bread to begin with—ciabatta, boule (traditional French farmers bread), a demi baguette and a flatbread—in addition to cookies, a flourless chocolate cake, a soft pretzel, a brioche and English muffins.
The descriptions of his breads on the Rudeboys menu are mouth-wateringly detailed. Here’s how he introduces the “Hopped Ciabatta”:
“Rudeboys’ most complex bread. Yeast and flour bloomed with Billings’ own Uberbrew Iconic Pale Ale for 18-24 hours. Then combined with local honey, hand kneaded, and placed into a scorching hot oven. Best served as a sandwich bread or with a soft cheese.”
With the breads as his base, Melvin will be serving sandwiches and burgers, in addition to coconut curry pork tacos. Look for some flair in all his offerings. His “Dead Hippie Burger,” for example, will feature two beef patties, red pepper aioli, hard salami, cheddar cheese and pork belly.
Among the “specials” he plans to open with is a soft-shelled crab BLT on a croissant bun with strawberry rhubarb jam, bacon and arugula, and a pizza-by-the-slice featuring sliced almonds, ricotta cheese, caramelized onion, hemp seed pesto and a beet crust.
“If that’s too crazy,” Melvin said, “we’ll have stuff like a house-smoked pastrami sandwich.” He’s calling his style of food “gourmet grub.”
And he’ll be making it in a 153-square-foot food truck with a full kitchen, a 48-inch range and double oven, a fryer, refrigerator, sink and prep table. The food truck will set him back about $60,000 and all his equipment will cost between $10,000 and $12,000.
“Which is unheard of,” he said. “This is the only way we were able to do this.”
Melvin worked closely on the design with Johnson, who has also worked in restaurants. Most food trucks have work areas on either side of a narrow galley, making it hard to maneuver and for workers to stay out of each other’s way. The Rudeboys truck has the kitchen in front, with the prep and sales area in back, much like a restaurant.
“We’ve still got a front-of-the-house, back-of-the-house feel to it,” Johnson said.
“It’s literally a mobile kitchen,” Melvin added.
And Melvin, who spent nine months traveling all over the country in a 1980 Thunderbird back in 2000, loves the idea of mobility. Everybody talks about Missoula and Bozeman, Melvin said, “but Billings is leading the food culture in Montana right now. We want to take it around the state.”
He hopes to take his mobile bakery and food truck to music festivals and other events around Montana during the summer, staying in Billings on weekdays. And because he plans to bake breads for sale in stores and restaurants—“I’m not going to say no to anybody who wants my business”—Melvin figures that when the food-truck business is slow, he can stay busy baking.
Melvin is a native of Sheridan, Wyo., who has worked in kitchens for Rocket Gourmet Wraps, MacKenzie River Pizza, the Northern Hotel and Bin 119. He also worked as the food and beverage manager for Lucky’s Market and spent two years at Lilac, including a year as manager.
He’s still there part-time, working closely with owner Jeremy Engebretson as he gets ready for Rudeboys—the name a nod to street kids they called “rude boys” in 1950s and ’60s Jamaica.
One reason the food culture is thriving in Billings is that chefs like Engebretson are so willing to share their knowledge and to encourage others who could be seen as competitors, Melvin said.
“Jeremy likes to foster a good food community here in town,” he said, as does Joanie Swords, the owner of Harper & Madison. She has been helping him by testing his food creations and giving him advice and encouragement. Her experience is invaluable, Melvin said, because she knows so much about food and what people in Billings like to eat.
More information: Once Rudeboys is open for business, you can check on the food truck’s location and see what’s on the menu on the Rudeboys website or Facebook page. In the meantime, Melvin’s demi baguettes are for sale at Harper & Madison, 3115 10th Ave. N.