You can’t hitch a ride from a vintage, red double-decker bus now driving around the Twin Cities, but you can eat from it. Two Blokes and a Bus is a new local restaurant…on wheels. Bloomington-Normal has now joined the food truck revolution.
“I’m going to go with the steak kabobs today,” says Brandon Schenck as he stands in the ISU Alumni Center Parking lot in Normal. Schenck is ordering food outside the window of a retrofitted English double-decker bus named Victoria.
“Beautiful job, excellent, sticky rice with those?” says Steffan Block, originally from Bristol, England. He’s manning the cash register. He and Executive Chef Jon Fritzen are the co-owners of Two Blokes and a Bus.
Kristen Grimes and Michelle Bock grab their order of steak kabobs.
“Oh I love The Blokes, this bus is adorable!” says Bock.
“And this is my second time today actually. I was over at the Alamo getting some food with my boyfriend,” says Grimes.
They take their dinner up the bus’ narrow staircase to the closed-in dining area on the second level. Down below, Fritzen moves about the surprisingly roomy kitchen cooking up Baja fish tacos.
“You know, you’re jamming all day getting your prep work done, all the logistics of getting loaded up, and then when you finally get onto the bus and you get to serve and you get to cook, it’s just absolutely the best part of the day,” says Fritzen.
Victoria is the first of its kind in Bloomington-Normal but food truck culture is booming in cities across the country. Entrepreneurs and chefs can get into the market without having to invest in expensive brick-and-mortar restaurants and sharing their location is as easy as updating a Facebook and Twitter page. In this economy, the trend has caught on fast. Travel to New York or LA, and vendors are parked along busy intersections serving everything from barbecue to gourmet Vietnamese cuisine. Fritzen says he and Block want to be part of the buzz.
“I’ve lived here my whole life, Steffan has lived here over 25 years,” says Fritzen. ”And so we just wanted to do something cool and different for the community to add vibrancy, another option for the people who are living here.”
The Two Blokes are limited to private property so they only operate where they’re invited. But the ease of mobility and lower startup cost has some local restaurants voicing concerns.
“This is potentially cutting in on someone’s bottom line that’s invested thousands of dollars on a brick-and-mortar store,” says Sarah Bushnell McManus, co-owner of the Garlic Press store and Market Café in Uptown Normal.
“They’re just one bus, they can’t feed everybody,” she laughs. ”And I think it’s great! Yes, it makes me nervous.”
Down the street at the Rock Restaurant, owner and operator Said Saliba says he’d like to see a limit on the hours and days mobile food vendors can operate.
“We work hard to build our store and for them to come here and operate as easy as this I think it’s not fair,” he says.
As for the Two Blokes, they say they just want to offer locals a different way to eat out.
“We’re good blokes,” says Block. ”We want to give the community something different, it’s great for the Twin Cities.”
Now with winter fast approaching, Two Blokes and a Bus will face their biggest challenge yet: running Victoria in freezing temperatures. Fritzen and Block say they’re counting on their signature gourmet street food to keep their hungry customers warm.