Chef Shack builds business and fans with social media

chef shack serving.jpg
Hart Van Denburg

One long-running jab about Facebook and Twitter is that they're places where "friends" insist on telling you what they just ate for lunch. Yawn, right? Well, I'm joining the club. Here's why. On a recent Saturday evening I read this tweet: "Tempura soft shell crab sandie at the Kingfield Farmers Market tomorrow!...come early!!! 43rd & Nicollet..." The next day, squeezing past the berry bakeoff, I stood in a line 20 foodies deep in front of Chef Shack, 
the mobile kitchen on wheels that serves delectable goodies at the Farmers Market. Soft shell crabs are a fleeting seasonal treat and the Chef Shack only had a limited supply--if I hadn't found out about them on Twitter, I might have missed the tasty sandwich, or tweet treat, if you will.

chef shack crab.jpg
Hart Van Denburg

 Since Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer took their gourmet street food truck to the road in 2007, they've been generating followers (more than 400 on Twitter), friends (more than 500 on Facebook) and headlines ever since. 

In addition to earning the honor of Best Street Food from City Pages, USA Today named Chef Shack one of the "10 great places to flag down a fabulous feast" and Forbes included it in a rundown of "elite street eats" nation wide. Mashable spotlighted the Shack as an example of how to create community and customers using social media tools.Not bad for an operation that opens only on summer weekends at two local farmers' markets -- Mill City and Kingfield -- and a few special events around town. 

"We're living the dream," Summer said with a laugh. "We're serving good food with a smile and a giggle." And posting tempting -- and sometimes eyebrow-raising -- tweets from the trailer via cell phone. "Rolled out the corn ice cream @ Kingfield!..it was a beautiful thing...so fresh!" reads a Facebook post. "The beef tongue taco! For serious foodies only!" reads another. "Just tasted the new Walnut Veggie burger yum! Also plenty of PBR to cook the Vegan Brats in!" reads a third.

The secret to their success is the menu, for sure. And there's what Summer calls the "kitchy" trailer. But social media helps, too. Summer said she isn't sure what percentage of the Shack's customers are driven to stand in line for Indian-spiced mini doughnuts, beef tongue tacos and the aforementioned softshell crab sandwiches. But she guesses that, after every weekend, they notch between 10-20 more followers and friends. And they make a point of giving shout outs on Twitter and commenting on the Shack's Facebook page. It's all about building their network, she said.

Read more about Chef Shack at: City PagesForbesUSA Today and Mashable, or follow the Shack on Facebook and Twitter @chefshack1.

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