Tonight, The Frying Dutchmen will hit the road for the first time. Though tonight’s soft opening outside Blackbird Bar will be the food truck’s first time feeding the general public, the inaugural journey to the curb outside the Bay View bar came after more than two years of planning, staggering expenses, a great deal of regulatory red tape, and 25 years of friendship.
In 2013, former Benjamins singer-guitarist/current Vanguard cook Jay Stys and longtime ComedySportz improviser Matt Garnaas—who have been friends since meeting in middle school in the early ’90s—and friend Ed Schott pooled their money and decades of combined culinary experience together to buy a half-finished manual transmission truck none of them knew how to drive with the intention of adding to Milwaukee’s small-but-growing food truck community. Had they known the laundry list of hurdles they’d need to clear at the time, they might have reconsidered the venture altogether.
“We pretty much built the truck ourselves from scratch,” Stys says. “We’re service employees and entertainment people, so none of us knew what we were doing trying to build a truck and getting stuff installed. It was just one thing after another.”
Beyond learning to drive stick, the subsequent months saw the entrepreneurs needing to install a new cooler, replacing the battery and a starter. As a result of new food truck regulations, they learned the entire exhaust system had to be replaced and a fire suppression system needed to be installed. Just as things were beginning to get rolling, the truck (literally) couldn’t stop when the brake lines burst while in transit.
“We were approaching a red light at a busy intersection and, [while] blowing our horn, managed to make a left turn while narrowly missing a very surprised woman,” Garnaas says.
While dealing with a variety of repairs, renovations, and near collisions, the trio was also faced with the sizable decision of what type of food they would sell if and when they truck ever opened. Hearkening back to trips they took to Amsterdam together, the trip eventually landed on Dutch street fare, an under-represented commodity in Milwaukee, and one that was altogether unheard of in the city’s street food scene. With a nod to a Simpsons reference, The Frying Dutchmen was born.
“When we first got the truck, we were thinking about what to do and we had a lot of ideas,” Stys says. “Eventually, we thought that would be really fast, really easy, and something people really like. We just wanted to do something that we didn’t really see anybody else do.”
At this point, the truck—in all its Netherlands-orange glory—has a fairly modest arsenal of offerings. Among the foods on its opening menu, Stys considers the vlaamse frites (or fries) and house-made dipping sauces to be The Frying Dutchmen’s specialty. Bitterballen (deep fried meat balls) and tosti—which Stys calls “a glorified Dutch grilled cheese” with ham and pineapple—will also be available. Though a business with “Frying” in its name probably isn’t kind to the waistline, its menu is easy on the wallet, with every item costing less than $10. Eventually, the Dutchmen hope to expand the menu by a few items. For the moment, though, the trio will take a reasonable and calculated approach to a venture that took so much work, untold hours of planning, and thousands upon thousands of dollars to get on four wheels. They’ll keep their other jobs for the time being and slowly expand business to offer lunch service throughout the city, cater private events, and hopefully have a presence at area festivals, all with the intention of making The Frying Dutchmen their full-fledged careers.
“We’re going to start dumping everything we can into it, work it as much as we can, and hopefully next spring we’ll be at a point where we can dump the other jobs and just work the food truck,” Stys says. “We’ll get there, sooner or later.”