When I first joined Black Creek (Chattanooga, Tenn.), one of our immediate priorities was to revamp our foodservice at the pool and the turn. Unfortunately, the pool area didn’t include a freestanding, separate kitchen when initially built. For the past 12 years, food preparation has been done in the main kitchen, which was physically distant, involved several doors, and required navigating a long staircase. This setup resulted in prolonged ticket times, compromised food quality, and inefficiency.
We explored several options to address this challenge, including converting existing storage space into a seasonal kitchen, using food trucks or concession trailers, and even considering limiting our menu while offering grab-and-go options. As discussions continued with our owners, general manager, and existing staff, the concept of a mobile food trolley began to gain traction.
The inspiration for this trolley idea came from Chef Scott Craig’s Next-Gen Food Trucks presentation at the Chef-to-Chef Conference held in Nashville. Fortunately, we had the physical space to accommodate the trolley, the infrastructure to tap into utilities from the clubhouse during the pool season, and the flexibility to move it around the community for other member benefits. With this vision in mind, we conducted a thorough search, evaluating various companies, costs, lead times, and specifications.
Ultimately, we partnered with a company based in Little Rock, Arkansas, with extensive experience building similar units for other clubs, which gave us confidence in their ability to meet our needs. We were assured that the layout and construction would align seamlessly with our club’s identity and branding.
Before construction commenced, we proactively contacted all the city and county entities that would need to be involved in the project. We initiated contact with our county health department well in advance to request their assistance and gain plan approval. Given that we were one of 164 mobile food units in our county, they provided us with a well-organized list of required documents and criteria. This information was seamlessly integrated into the schematics. We also scheduled a visit from our health inspector after delivery and before the final inspection to conduct a comprehensive walkthrough and identify any necessary additions or modifications. Our fire suppression and Ansul system were locally installed by a company well-versed in city requirements, simplifying our final fire department inspection. Two weeks before delivery, we traveled to Little Rock to inspect the almost completed trolley and made any last-minute adjustments, ensuring it met our expectations upon arrival.
The construction project took approximately three months to complete, and ongoing communication allowed us to make minor adjustments as the build-out progressed. Opting for a slightly larger space than initially anticipated was a strategic choice. The 18.5-foot interior length now allows us to accommodate three staff members comfortably as needed. With a ceiling height of over 8 feet, it never feels cramped. This additional space enables us to add equipment or tailor it for specific events easily.
Our impressive array of equipment includes a 48″ chef’s base, pantry flip-top refrigerator, chest freezer, electric pizza oven, a 35# fryer, and a 24″ griddle, all powered by liquid propane. We’ve also increased the number of outlets to accommodate warmers, heat lamps, and other auxiliary needs. Our printers operate on Wi-Fi and have proven highly efficient. Currently, we are connected to the clubhouse for electricity and water, utilizing dual 40lb propane tanks to power the equipment. Once we go mobile, a generator will supply power, and a 32-gallon internal tank will provide water.
Ultimately, we’ll have the necessary infrastructure in place, allowing us to deploy the trolley for community and member events during our off-season. This includes spring and fall festivals, member golf tournaments, pool events, and as part of our banquet and catering programming. As we continue to develop additional residential properties and explore building our second clubhouse, the trolley will serve a variety of applications in support of our expansion.
The trolley has been operational since the first week of July, marking the culmination of months of planning and construction. It has proven an excellent solution for our pool and turn services. We remain committed to offering an expansive menu and are planning improvements for the next year to enhance our offerings further. Importantly, the trolley has allowed our culinary team to engage more with our membership and introduce something new to our community beyond the pool and the summer season.
None of this would have come to be if I hadn’t attended the Chef to Chef Conference. I’d like to sincerely thank Chefs Scott Craig and Andrew Haapala for generously sharing their insights, expertise, and experiences with their operations and trolleys. Their valuable input helped us navigate potential pitfalls during pre-production and avoid unnecessary expenses related to retrofitting and replicating lessons learned. We’ve embraced many of their best practices and equipment choices, and above all, we appreciate the time they devoted to assisting us and the industry.