Not So Miserable: Food Truck's Following Spurs Restaurant Success
Just after 9 o’clock on a grey winter morning, chef Nate Wade of Misery Loves Company in Winooski slides chicken livers into a hot pan of olive oil, destined to become mousse for open-faced chicken salad sandwiches.
Nate and his business partners Laura Wade and Aaron Josinsky never planned to launch their restaurant business by selling sandwiches out of a 40-year-old Winnebago. But that’s just what they did last spring and summer. The motor home they called “Big Red” became a fixture of the food scene around Burlington, and on the Facebook and Instagram feeds of local foodies.
“It was important for us not to take jobs with other people so that we could stay focused on what we ultimately wanted to do,” says Laura Wade, which was to open their own restaurant. “So we got really creative with what we could do and how we could make a little money.”
The trio behind Misery Loves Company worked together at Burlington’s Bluebird Tavern when that farm-to-table gastropub opened in 2009. Bluebird was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as “Best New Restaurant in the U.S.” a year later, and only months after that nomination, all three moved on. Laura Wade says they had a single-minded desire to work for themselves.
“We were doing anything from cooking barbecue in our backyard and delivering it to people’s homes, to doing the pop-ups, also just selling food at the farmers market on Sundays.” explains Wade. “We were just being as creative as possible and as flexible as possible to keep focused and do what we wanted to do.”
What they wanted to do, was start their own restaurant. But with no money of their own and an aversion to outside investors, they had to hustle to make ends meet. But then, they happened upon an unexpected next step: A red-and-white 1972 Winnebago food truck was for sale in Montpelier. It was affordable, mobile, and had low overhead.
“We always talked about food trucks and food carts,” says Nate Wade. “When it presented itself, we all knew it was the right choice.” It proved to be a smart move. They parked Big Red outside of businesses like Burton Snowboards at lunchtime and built a following that made it possible to open a storefront restaurant in Winooski last fall.
On an early afternoon in Winooski, the restaurant’s bright, simple dining room is full of people of all ages, their winter coats hanging off the backs of chairs. Aaron and Nate work the line in an open kitchen while Laura stands behind the counter taking lunch orders. Three chalkboards feature the day’s menu: sandwiches like the Korean Rueben, the Cuban American, and the Porchetta have all been standards since the Big Red days. Trays full of lemon curd doughnuts and other sweets sit next to a jar of house-made pickles.
Jodi Harrington of Winooski is a regular. “Today I had their smoked chicken wings,” she says. “Totally delicious. A little decadent, but delicious.” Harrington has followed the Misery crew since they first started Big Red. And even now that the restaurant is established, Harrington and other fans will have a chance to grab a sandwich on the street again this summer. Nate, Aaron, and Laura say the food truck is close to their hearts. They plan staff it with cooks and get it back out on the road soon.
Misery Loves Company in Winooski is owned by three restaurant veterans who gained a ravenous and devoted following for their Winnebago food truck during the summer of 2012.