Food Truck Friday: The Gnarwhal, unicorn of the sea and Gulf Shores

Melanie LeCroy
Lifestyle Editor
melanie@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 7/8/22

The Gnarwhal Food Truck is more than a culinary destination. It is a point of intersection for two entrepreneurs.

Ryan Shamburger, co-founder of Big Beach Brewing Company and Gulf Shores food …

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Food Truck Friday: The Gnarwhal, unicorn of the sea and Gulf Shores

Posted

The Gnarwhal Food Truck is more than a culinary destination. It is a point of intersection for two entrepreneurs.

Ryan Shamburger, co-founder of Big Beach Brewing Company and Gulf Shores food truck warrior, kept running into issues with the food trucks he booked for the brewery. Break downs, COVID-19 outbreaks, no shows and staffing issues were leaving his patrons hungry.

That's when he decided he wanted a food truck at the brewery all the time. All he needed was a chef.

Wes Brothers grew up in Georgia, spent his childhood summers in Fort Morgan, went to culinary school in Charleston, South Carolina and cooked in all the culinary cities around the country before landing in Gulf Shores. Locally he was a sous chef at Fisher's for four years before working with Chef Jonathan Kastner at Anchor Bar and Grill. The last item left on his culinary career checklist was food truck and being his own boss.

Shamburger was connected with Brothers through a common denominator — Ashley Brothers. She is the craft sales manager at Gulf Distributing Company and wife to Chef Wes Brothers. Ashley knew of Shamburger's desire to open a food truck and his need for a chef. She also knew her husband was ready for a new venture, so she connected the two.

"We talked and he didn't really want to do the big restaurant grind anymore and a food truck had always been his dream," Shamburger said. "I told him we could do it together. We are 50-50 partners on the Gnarwhal. He named it and I try to stay as hands off as I can so he has ownership of the menu and what they are doing."

And what is the Gnarwhal doing? Brothers and his small team are keeping the menu small, eclectic and full of items they want to eat. Right now, Brothers said he is keeping things straightforward, ingredient driven, simple and approachable. He also wants to encourage customers to give immediate feedback.

"If we don't season things correctly, I want immediate feedback," Brothers said. "That matters. I don't think there's enough people out there asking for feedback from their customers. I think we are trying to push asking our own customers and making sure we are staying on top of it even if we think we did good the week before. We are only as good as our last plate."

Whatever Brothers and the Gnarwhal crew are doing it's working. The Big Beach Brewing Company has been the Gulf Pines neighborhood watering hole since opening their doors in 2016 but the much-requested addition of food has added an even bigger loyal customer base.

"I definitely attribute some of our recent growth to the food truck," Shamburger said. "People either come because they are hungry and will grab a beer or they are coming to drink and once they get hungry, they are not leaving. They stay, order something to eat and have another beer. Our average tabs for beer have gone up because people are staying longer."

Not only are people staying longer, but they are also becoming regulars who get upset when the Gnarwhal isn't open during their normally scheduled Thursday through Sunday from 5 until 9 p.m.

"Regulars are probably 98% of our business," Brothers said. "Our locals get really upset with us if we aren't there. I love it. The tourist business is always going to be there, but our locals are what really drive what we do. The key is it is in a neighborhood where people are already used to coming to the brewery. It is their neighborhood brewery, and it is their place where they find refuge outside of their work or their home. It is a hangout."

While it is challenging, Brothers creates a new menu each week. He adds new items and brings back items that are popular from week to week. The menu is kept small so that he can execute each dish at the level he wants. Some of the recent menu favorites have been the swordfish burrito, pork cheek Cuban and the smash burger.

"I think the key to try and keep things delicious and fresh is minimalizing things where you can. We try to do two entrees, two shareables items and a salad in there somewhere. If we do that, it's like five or six menu items," Brothers said.

Despite years of restaurant experience, Brothers said the food truck has taught him patience because being on a food truck is totally different from being in a restaurant.

"In a restaurant you don't run out of a fuel source, worry about where you are getting your water from or the weather," Brothers said. "All these different variables that you have on a food truck that you don't have in a standalone restaurant are that much more challenging in my opinion than being in an actual brick and mortar. It is a bigger challenge than I could have ever expected but it is that much more of a reward."

While many see a food truck as a step toward opening a brick and mortar, Brothers said he is where he wants to be.

"I have thought about a food truck for ten years because the food industry has changed tremendously since I got into it. The truck adds flexibility to being able to do my own thing by having this little capsule I am in every week. I can just produce food that I feel like. This is food we get excited about eating and the customers get to benefit from that. Honestly, we make food that we want to have in this area ourselves," Brothers said.

The Gnarwhal Food Truck is open Thursday through Sunday from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. at Big Beach Brewing Company, 300 E. 24th Ave., Gulf Shores. Follow The Gnarwhal Food Truck Facebook page for weekly menus, schedule and more information.

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