If you're from Fort Wayne, you may have used the "Fort Wayne Foodslut" when deciding where to eat, or maybe you visited a local restaurant at my recommendation. I pride myself on the number of local restaurants and food trucks I have covered for my Instagram page, @fortwaynefoodslut
. My numbers from last year alone amounted to over 88 different locations.
The Fort Wayne Foodslut, an anonymous local foodie.
When I heard that Fort Wayne's newest food truck, The Spicy Bird, had Nashville hot chicken sandwiches and tenders– something we did not have in the area– I began my search. Where would they be, and what was the word online about this hot chicken sandwich food truck? Unfortunately, it was much harder to find this information than you would guess (that's one reason my business exists after all).
My first chance at checking out the menu and sampling The Spicy Bird was during the Taste of the Arts Festival which annually celebrates local artists, creators, food, and drinks in downtown Fort Wayne.
Tenders from The Spicy Bird.
While ordering at the food truck, I noticed a person wearing a Hop River Brewing branded shirt who had served me during my latest visit to Hop River Brewing. I leaned over to whisper to my partner, "I am pretty sure that is the owner of Hop River."
I have visited Hop River Brewing countless times. Placed in a sweet spot right before the Downtown Fort Wayne Riverfront, I've personally made new puppy friends while enjoying a Kolsch, German-style ale, or their 1894 Oat Malt Stout on their dog-friendly patio. In my mind, Hop River is associated with soccer. During the 2022 World Cup, they had guests at their viewing party packed into every available space, spilling out of the front door to watch the USA men's soccer team compete against England. Being home to the soccer community comes with its conditions, and it also means being a space for those who may consider Fort Wayne and the United States a home away from home. Creating an inclusive space is no easy feat, and from my first visit to Hop River's Taproom on Harris Street, I noticed it. By my second and third visits, I was a fan.
I had never felt the need to explore the ownership of Hop River. After a few years of making this location my go-to brewery, I should have been more curious. (This is where I can make it astoundingly clear– I am no journalist!) Not long ago, I decided to take a deeper dive into the details of Hop River.
I arrived solo just as the doors opened at 4 p.m. I do this occasionally out of my interest in individual restaurant's functioning and to enjoy my own company, picking out details that count but may have been overlooked when I was there with a group. I ordered my beer at the bar and moved to a table along the walls covered in local art for sale, listening and observing my surroundings. It was still empty when I arrived, and I could hear what music was playing– a mix of new Psychedelic Rock, old Psychedelic Rock, and other classic, feel-good hits.
Paris McFarthing, owner of The Spicy Bird and Hop River Brewing Company
The owner, Paris McFarthing, approached my table and offered another beer, which I accepted. Still dressed for work, business people had started to spill in by the time I paid my tab and left. Unbeknownst to either of us, I was to cross paths with Paris again later that weekend at the Taste of The Arts Festival.
At the Festival, Paris approached after we had placed our order for the much sought-after Nashville hot chicken sandwiches, seemingly having the same experience of recognition.
"Are you the Fort Wayne Foodslut?" he asked.
Although I am anonymous online, Paris is even more elusive and has not posted anything to his personal Instagram page since 2019. He’s had a few pieces written by Visit Fort Wayne and local news covering his profile. Paris is a hard worker and recently started a food truck– none other than The Spicy Bird.
My excitement peaked around the Spicy Bird upon learning this. As my order came up, I asked if I could reach out to Paris in the future to discuss further his inspiration and business ideas. He agreed. I grabbed my order and commenced with my first taste of Fort Wayne's Nashville hot chicken food truck.
Tender chicken breast, deep-fried to juicy perfection, slathered in mild, medium, or hot sauce, served with a bun or without. This was the craving I have had since sampling a similar at Dave's Hot Chicken in LA months before, now fulfilled right here at home.
One of the most complex parts of starting a new business in the food industry after getting through all the legalities like health board inspections, menu choices, location, and food budgeting is building your customer base. For many entrepreneurs, building their customer base starts with offering samplings to friends and family, selling from tents at a market or buying a food truck. These options have less risk than going straight to a brick-and-mortar and may be the best option for businesses looking to make a career out of their concept.
Loaded fries from The Spicy Bird.
If you have ever thought, “I should open a food truck or a restaurant,” then someone like Paris, who has a brick-and-mortar, loyal customers and business experience, is the perfect person to look to as an example.
I sat down with The Spicy Bird Food Truck and Hop River Brewing Owner Paris McFarthing to learn about his venture with a food truck, his history in the food and beverage industry, and some of the everyday processes that support his success.
Fort Wayne Foodslut: In 2009, you received a bachelor's degree in finance from IPFW. What made you decide to enter the food and beverage industry?
Opportunity and at the time the brewing industry appealed to me. I had home-brewed in college and craft beer was reaching new heights. It was an interesting industry for me at the time.
Lasers in the Jungle IPA from Hop River Brewing Company.FWFS: When starting your first business, Hop River, did you require an investor like many other businesses? If so, how did you pitch your idea to said investors?
Hop River was my second business. My first business was with Phil’s Hobby Shop in the retail sector. When Hop River came about, based on what we envisioned we decided to take on investors. Most of our investors are “friends and family”. These are connections that are about one or two degrees away from us. Like most new businesses we worked on a business plan and how we would operate. We used this as a tool when making our pitch to investors.
FWFS: Was there an inspiration for the idea and location for Hop River?
The inspiration was more around the beer community we wanted to create. We were focused on well-made craft beer in an inviting community-oriented space. The location came by chance, I was leasing the space with my other business at the time we started planning for the brewery. We were touring other properties and almost landed somewhere different. At that time the discussion for the Riverfront had started and our current location became the ideal place for the brewery.
Hop River Brewing CompanyFWFS: Do you follow a business ideology for your newest venture, The Spicy Bird?
I do not have a specific ideology that I follow. I really followed the idea that I wanted to build something special that lasts. My goal with The Spicy Bird is to make hand-crafted hot chicken and sides that people enjoy and want to return for. When I started developing the concept, I was focused on making a good piece of chicken first. I knew that if I could get that right when I added sauce it would still be a good piece of chicken. This pushed me to develop all our other recipes through trial and error.
FWFS: When building your menu what information did you consider?
I started with hot chicken as a baseline. From there I worked to develop complementary items. Currently, the biggest consideration must be around how we cook and serve it on the truck. We want to make sure it is feasible and quick to prepare. Our current menu is small and simple. This is intentional as it allows us to run smoothly and efficiently. My plan is to slowly add items and sauces to give us new variety.
FWFS: How do you prep for a food truck event?
Prep for the food truck really happens in three phases. They are food prep, truck prep, and equipment prep. Our food needs are based on the event and potential visitor count. As we have run more, it has made us better at food planning and prepping which has made us more efficient. Prepping our truck and equipment is very important as well. We are essentially a mobile restaurant that must spin up and down every time we go out. We ensure that our truck is operational and clean. Then we load in or refill our miscellaneous supplies and equipment needed to operate. It is amazing how quickly it becomes second nature to prep the truck.
The Spicy BirdFWFS: What time do you wake up?
I wake up between 6-6:30 am. In the morning I get myself and my daughters ready for the day. I drop them off at school and start my day by 8 a.m.
FWFS: Food truck start-up costs are considerably less than a brick-and-mortar restaurant. What were they for your food truck, and how long do you believe it will take to break even?
I choose to prove this concept using the food truck for those reasons. I have less than $60k in my truck and equipment. Truck costs can vary widely. I was able to find a truck builder out of Texas. I had the mechanicals built and then I completed the final equipment installation. Between the two I was able to save time and money. My hope was to have the truck pay for itself within three years. This first year is not a good measure but next year will be a better bellwether period.
A slider from the Spicy Bird.FWFS: How have your travels helped shape The Spicy Bird food truck?
After I decided on our food concept, I spent time traveling to hot chicken restaurants. There are a lot of different dedicated restaurants that have unique styles and menus. It was fun to try them and see what made them special.
FWFS: At times, being highly involved in a business you are passionate about can lead to burnout. Have you ever experienced this? If so, how did you push through, reset and restart?
Yes, I have. I think it is something that can easily be around the corner for anyone. When I worked through it, I had to ask myself if I was in the right seat doing the right thing. I then had to work through my why. That process and others were critical as they helped me reaffirm what I was doing and for what reason. Once I had them, I found it easier to stay with it and push through.
FWFS: What is something you love about Fort Wayne’s restaurant scene?
I love the diversity of options. I have become a flavor seeker and love to try new things. We have so many cultures influencing our restaurants and that’s a plus.
Hop River Brewing Company's TaproomFWFS: I believe Fort Wayne needs to diversify regarding food, drink, and restaurants. What are we missing compared to other cities of a similar size?
I would say better late-night activities and food. I would love to see more casual or upscale bars that we open later. It was interesting to see that lots of hot chicken restaurants are late-night food hot spots. My most recent memory was ordering late-night gyros from a food truck in Nashville after a night out.
FWFS: What would you recommend to someone dreaming of starting their own food truck?
I would say put the work in and find out if it’s right for you. They will be the only ones that can answer that. From there seek other food truck operators out and ask questions.
FWFS: Will you ever change your current business or career path if you find yourself lacking inspiration?
I am always open to that. I ask myself quite frequently if am I on the right path. I focus on learning new skills that make me better. That helps me stay sharp and to remain engaged.
Hop River Brewing Company's TaproomFWFS: What are some valuable lessons you’ve learned from your time in the food and beverage industry?
I would focus on profit from day one. The reason I say that is because it would force hard decisions early. Businesses, especially new ones, can be very aspirational. In that sense, we can justify anything with numbers in the business plan. I think forcing the business to make a profit from the first day changes the way businesses plan and run for the better.
FWFS: Outside of your businesses, what is an issue you are passionate about?
I am passionate about education. My grandmother was a big proponent of education because she wasn’t able to get the one she deserved. Throughout my life, she instilled in our family the value of education. My wife is also a teacher. Seeing the impact that she and other teachers make is always amazing.
You can follow along with The Fort Wayne Foodslut’s daily life and findings through Instagram and TikTok, and access her business website at fortwaynefoodslut.com.
Hop River can be found at 1515 N Harrison Street and The Spicy Bird schedule can be found on their Instagram.