New Scenic Cafe has kept its restaurant doors closed throughout the pandemic, but a shiny new trailer is helping bring its artisan food back to hungry customers.
On Wednesday, New Scenic Cafe launched its food trailer, called "Scenic 61," in an Airstream trailer. It promises to offer mobile food, with the same creativity and quality that the Duluth restaurant is known for, to customers in its parking lot, locations around Duluth and — eventually — the Minnesota State Fair.
The pandemic has hit the restaurant industry hard, with most relying solely on takeout and delivery orders — while others completely closed. Like many, New Scenic Cafe temporarily closed its doors and awaited guidance from the state.
"It was like a vortex. It sucked the life out of the restaurant. It sucked it out of the catering world. It sucked it out of going to the State Fair," said owner Scott Graden.
Hearing the news that they could reopen, Graden said they were eager, too, as they had recently completed a renovation — but it was too big of a risk for staff and customers.
To continue on, Graden said, they had to take stock of existing resources and what restaurants are able to do in a pandemic.
"How do you take the things that you were doing and literally distill it to the things that are essential and then bring it forward and be creative?" he said.
Luckily, he already owned an Airstream and had put in hours of work to turn it into a food trailer. The pre-pandemic plan was to bring the trailer to the State Fair, where they would showcase sashimi tuna tacos. Now, the trailer would be used locally — with more food options — as the restaurant's main operation.
"We make really good food. We own this trailer," he said. "It's a lot easier to mobilize a food system with this type of a trailer than it is to do a restaurant right now."
Scenic 61's menu lineup includes tacos, burgers, sausages and sandwiches — all items that are easy to grab and go, Graden said.
"I think we can do those really well," he said.
About 200 hours of polishing the exterior and interior, new appliances and more were put into the trailer's renovation, making it a kitchen were Graden and his team can "perform well."
People can expect a similar quality and creativity in its food, he said.
"I think we're going to push some limits of people," he said, as they plan to continue bringing new food to the community. But, the exact menu may take time to create as they adjust to a new kitchen as well as a different customer experience and price point expectations.
For now, the trailer will stay in the cafe's parking lot. With inquiries coming from all corners of the city, including from breweries, hospitals and college campuses, the trailer will start moving when they have more practice.
Come winter, they will move Scenic 61 — named after the cafe's location on Scenic Highway 61 and the trailer's mobility — near busy areas in Duluth and plan to eventually explore mobile ordering, allowing people to grab food and go.
Graden is hopeful that next year, they will bring Scenic 61 to the State Fair. The additional year will also help them "iron out a lot of kinks" that come with opening a food trailer.
"If we can just keep focusing on how do we get good food to people, I think we'll find a way," he said. "The Scenic was founded on being creative … so we just have to be creative and find quality in the new way."
Find the food truck online at scenic-61.com.