Blind Ambition

Faced with opening with zero foodservice space, the Gates Hotel in Key West found a porcine partner.

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The Blind Pig
Licensing and insurance for mobile concessions in the area “tends to be about 75% less expensive than for a brick-and-mortar restaurant,” says David Furhman, owner of Great Events Catering.

When Highgate Holdings opened the Gates Hotel, a boutique property in Key West, Florida, they wanted to add a foodservice outlet to complement Rum Row, their full-service poolside bar. The only problem: there was simply no space.

So Gates management reached out to local chef/caterer David Fuhrman, owner of Key West-based Great Events Catering, for ideas. Fuhrman’s first suggestion was to bring in a mobile concession in the form of a food trailer.

The Blind Pig
A true win-win, the Blind Pig food trailer not only provides the lone foodservice at the Gates, but delivers an “authentic experience” in the community, says Gates’ GM Eugenia Simons.

“I came on board in September 2014, a few months before Highgate opened the [at the time] 100-room hotel,” Fuhrman says. “We toured the property and saw what the previous owners had used for their ‘grill’ area. It was a home-style Weber grill with a nearby kiosk selling raw ingredients for guests to grill by themselves.”

Fuhrman came up with various ideas, but a food trailer was the top choice.

“We described a unit that would be custom-built, user-friendly, and far less expensive than building a full-on foodservice operation at the hotel,” Fuhrman says. “The menu would be a tapas-style selection of Cuban, Bahamian, Caribbean, and Floridian flavors, with daily specials. It would be supported by our kitchen at Great Events Catering.”

The concept is convenient, and licensing and insurance for mobile concessions in that part of Florida “tends to be about 75% less expensive than for a brick-and-mortar restaurant,” Fuhrman says.

“We wanted to bring an authentic experience to our guests,” says Gates’ GM Eugenia Simons. “That’s why we believed [a food trailer concept such as] the Blind Pig would be able to offer a great selection of conch fusion— small plates and tapas—right in the heart of our hotel.”

Highgate company heads did a tasting of Fuhrman’s proposed menu, considered the options, then gave a green light to a partnership between the Gates Hotel and Great Events Catering for an onsite food trailer.

Creating the Blind Pig

Fuhrman contacted Concession Nation, a Fort Lauderdale-based firm specializing in custom-built food trailers and trucks.

“We opted for an 18-foot trailer, 8½ feet wide, that has space for three people to work comfortably—one at the window as the server/ cashier, one in expo filling orders, and one as cook,” Fuhrman says.

To equip the kitchen, Fuhrman chose from options offered by the firm. “Then they created a spec sheet to take into account weight distribution and layout,” he says. “Once we approved it, they built the unit in about two weeks.”

The resulting trailer includes a seven-foot hood covering a grill and flattop, four-burner range/oven, and fryer. A full-size refrigerator, under-counter refrigerator and freezer, sandwich prep table, microwave, hot water tank, three-compartment sink, hand sink, and work tables—plus an air conditioning unit, propane tanks, and a generator—complete the setup.Blind Pig

Menus and Food Supplies

“There’s enough equipment to prepare just about any menu item we want to,” Fuhrman says. Indeed, the only changes made since the Blind Pig opened in May 2015 have been to the menu rather than the kitchen. “Guests wanted larger portions than what we offered on our tapas menu, which was an easy change to make.”

The food trailer is permanently docked on a concrete slab near the hotel pool and about 10 feet away from the hotel’s watering hole, the speakeasy-themed Rum Row. “The Blind Pig offers easy ordering and fast preparation of cuisine inspired by Key West’s Cuban, Bahamian, Caribbean, and Floridian roots,” Simons says.

The Blind Pig serves throughout the day. Morning favorites include Cuban-inspired breakfast sandwiches, fresh fruits, and omelets. For lunch and dinner, the menu shifts to daily-changing tacos and ceviches made with fresh local fish, hearty sandwiches, and arepas [South American corn pancake sandwiches], as well as snacks such as truffle popcorn and housemade chips. The menu’s fresh, eclectic spin has proved a perfect match for the Gates Hotel’s urban, younger clientele.

Blind Pig Menu
Click to see menu.

So far, guests enjoy the food trailer, which aligns with the offbeat vibe the rest of the hotel exudes. A guest review on TripAdvisor.com in September 2015 reads, “The pool area was well maintained and the food truck has very good food for reasonable prices.” Another commented, “The restaurant is a food truck, yeah! we ate there a couple of times, the lobster cevice was delicious.”

Bulk food prep is handled offsite at Fuhrman’s 2,000-square-foot Great Events catering kitchen, located a mile from the hotel. Delivery runs throughout the day keep the Blind Pig well-supplied during its daily 7 a.m.-to-10 p.m. hours of operation.

Behind-Scenes Details

At four months into operations, and despite opening at the start of Florida’s hot, steamy off-season, The Blind Pig is generating about $1,000 per day in revenue with a check average of $8 per person.

“The results have been extremely positive, not only for our guests, but for our community as well,” Simons says. “The food truck offers a compact, fully equipped kitchen that allows Chef David Fuhrman to vary his menus and offer amazing specials.”

The rental agreement between Gates Hotel and Fuhrman includes a sliding-scale percentage that is based on sales figures. The Gates Hotel is responsible for the trailer’s design, logos, branding, and marketing.

Looking ahead, Fuhrman will be considering the possible upgrade to a larger trailer as business increases.

“The Gates Hotel [opened] another 145 rooms this October,” Fuhrman says. “We will see how things go with the 18-foot truck, but we may want to expand into a 24-foot trailer instead, with walk-in cooler capacity. But for now we’ll run with the trailer we have.”

Janice Cha has covered the foodservice industry for more than a decade.

 

Editor’s Note:

This feature is one of our Reader Favorites and originally appeared in Hotel F&B‘s November/December 2015 issue. In the summer of 2016, the Blind Pig made a list of Key West’s top five food trucks.

The Blind Pig is still proving a hit with many guests and others who gravitate just for the food, as evidenced by comments on TripAdvisor.com, although the bold choice of going with a relatively singular style of cuisine may have missed the mark for a few:

  • Smoke flavor for the pork bbq was really unique. Service was fast and very friendly. Would definitely visit this food truck again on my next trip down in December.
  • Stayed at 24North Hotel that was right next to this food truck. Very convenient! Had a pulled pork sandwich which was very good!
  • We stayed at the gates hotel where the blind pig is located. As great as the hotel was the food at the blind pig was avg at best I ordered a breakfast taco and was not impressed it looked like someone threw up in a soft taco shell the taste wasn’t much better my wife’s French Toast was avg…
  • We got lunch from this food truck one afternoon to eat at the pool. I ordered a fish taco- $7 for a small-mid size taco. It was overpriced first of all, but it was also terrible. It was smothered in some kind of creamy sauce.
  • I stopped at the Blind Pig for lunch with my sister and my daughter (age 12). The menu is exceptional with a variety to satisfy the foodies in the group as well as the picky kids. This is a food truck beside a really cool bar at a newly renovated hotel. We ordered food and it was ready in 10-12 minutes as promised. Very good blind pig bbq sandwich on pretzel roll!! Also, the service guy at the window was the kind of employee every employer wants to greet customers. He was even able to get my pre-teen daughter to smile — twice! Definitely recommend a stop to grab a quick lunch if you are in the area. We are going back when on that side of the island!