0512 - Brand Builders - Skillet
Image: Young Lee
From mortar to mobile. Or is it mobile to mortar?

Joshua Henderson, the guy who ignited Seattle’s curbside culture with Skillet, has made some savvy decisions over the years. When Henderson got his start in August of 2007, just he and a handful of taco trucks trolled our roadways. Street food was an uncharted, if not rogue, concept. “Sometimes meter maids didn’t know what to do with us,” he remembers. The health department was similarly flummoxed, unsure what to make of the burgers and poutine he was making in his midcentury Airstream trailer.

Today Henderson runs a veritable empire that encompasses one critically adored restaurant (another is on the way), a second truck to field catering requests, a forthcoming cookbook, a radio show on KVI, and nearly 90 employees. Then there’s his line of condiments: two flavors of sinfully addictive bacon jam and various seasonal offerings, retailed in specialty stores all over, including Canada. In 2011, Henderson estimates sales of those condiments “were in the high six figures.”

Skillet’s story—and Henderson’s philosophy—is a trend that’s spreading in Seattle: A food truck isn’t something you park here or there several times a week. It’s a brand builder.

Some ship their products regionally (Parfait), some run a wholesale operation (Street Treats), and nearly all of them cater. Others pursue a brick-and-mortar offshoot, like Henderson’s Skillet Diner. Maximus Minimus and Where Ya At Matt have fixed locations in the works, as does Charlie’s Buns N’ Stuff. Marination Mobile parked it on Capitol Hill in April 2011 with Marination Station. There you’ll find not only tees but sassy Marination underwear and jars of the truck’s coveted Nunya sauce. Which, by the way, will be spreading to more local retailers in the near future, and to a second station in West Seattle.

“The truck will never be our financial bread-and-butter,” acknowledges Henderson, “but always our story, our DNA.”