Silo, Liquid State Brewing partnership shows success

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Earlier this month, Ithaca’s Silo Food Truck reopened for the season, serving signature dishes like fried chicken and mac and cheese at Liquid State Brewing on 620 W. Green St. in Ithaca, according to a recent press release.

The partnership was a long time coming, said Katie Foley, co-owner of Silo Food Truck.

“We wanted to deal with continuing to make great food but in a location with steady consistency where we could serve more people in a year-round setting and not ever have to worry about beer sales or beverage sales,” Foley said. “And they were kind of like, ‘We love brewing beer and running our beer hall, but we really don’t want to have to get into the whole food business,’ in which case, it kind of seemed like the perfect marriage.”

Liquid State owners Jamey Tielens and Ben Brotman said they were happy to partner with Foley and co-owner Jesse Steve.

“They’re very well known in the community, and their food is great,” Tielens said. “They are nice people, and you talk to anyone, it’s like everybody knows Silo. And so, we just thought it’d be great to have them on site occasionally.”
After that initial conversation, the two businesses drew up a plan.

“We were going to, after the end of this busy summer, look to launch a second permanent food truck that would serve as sort of a residency year round at Liquid State, going from a seasonal business to a year-round business and working in conjunction with them to not only service the brewery but also create a means for pickup and potentially a delivery service,” Foley said.

COVID-19, as it has for many, upended those plans, but Foley, Steve, Tielens and Brotman quickly adapted.

“Liquid State reached out to us and said, ‘Hey, we’re already doing curbside pickup. Why don’t we think about partnering early?’” Foley said. “And we’ve just been working on that for the last couple of months, everything from working on an online ordering system, ... creating a to-go menu, thinking about the style of not only service when people come to the truck, but also how we vary our menu just slightly to serve as more of a homestyle, family style kind of menu as opposed to just the one-entree kind of deal.”

All that planning paid off, as the first day brought success for both businesses.

“[Silo] sold out all their presale meals,” Brotman said. “And then, we had a great day. We had a really busy day. It was just more people there. So, there were a lot of walk-up sales and things. So, so far, so good.”

The partnership is a bright spot in what has been a challenging time for both businesses. For Silo, Foley saw most of her client base disappear almost over night.

“We had actually booked what I think was going to be one of our best Silo Food Truck seasons yet,” Foley said. “We had some incredible partnerships, music festivals, community festivals, weddings, on the books, and I was feeling really awesome about going into the year. … Pretty much every single one of our events has been canceled.”

Tielens and Brotman said they saw a similar effect on Liquid State. Tielens said business was going well, and the pub had already booked performers for its new event space, but then, COVID-19 changed things.

“That all came to a screeching halt,” Brotman said. “It was just so hard. But we realized that, as a beverage producer, we’re considered an essential business, so we never closed. We just basically shifted, moved everything into an online store and started curbside pickup immediately.”

Soon after COVID-19 hit, the pair had to lay off all their employees, putting more responsibility on their shoulders.

“We’ve basically been working almost every day,” Brotman said. “Once in a while, we were trading off days, but other than that, we’d work every day since then.”

Silo was also dubbed an essential business, but Foley said it hasn’t been easy preparing for this season.

“We also felt pretty fortunate that we were a food truck and kind of allowed for an outdoor type of environment that I thought would give us a lot of flexibility,” she said. “But it was also a little bit heart-breaking for us because we love festivals and events, and to have to say goodbye to a lot of those was challenging.”

Brotman said their biggest challenge was losing all wholesale business.

“We were selling so much beer to restaurants and bars, and that just stopped,” he said. “We didn’t have to brew as much and we needed to shift. … We basically are shifting everything towards to-go containers and cans. … We blasted through a lot of supplies that we had. So, we had to get more.”

Both businesses had to completely revamp their business models, implementing new technologies to comply with health and safety requirements.

“You go from a business model that you mostly just serve the public at an event to mostly interfacing with a computer and relying on really seamless means of communication through emailing and ordering,” Foley said. “We want to make sure that personal touch still really feels that way with Silo.”

As the county moves forward with its reopening, sources shared a similar uncertainty for what’s to come. For Liquid State, the team has adjusted well to curbside pickup and delivery, so adjusting to yet another new normal when phase three arrives and they can reopen is a large unknown.

“If there’s going to be partial opening, there’s going to be so many details with regards to keeping people safe,” Tielens said. “We’re in a groove right now with regards to our distancing and the way we do our curbside and the way we deliver, and it’s very safe. And just right now, we’re starting to come up with methodology and protocols for us and for employees and signs and all that sort of thing for when we do open. So, those details are just going to be very difficult and interesting.”

Foley expressed a similar approach for Silo, as she is optimistic that the business will be able to move forward with plans to build another, permanent, food truck at Liquid State.

“We’re going to see how it goes,” she said. “We’ve been calling this phase the corona phase. And our hope is that we each learn that we’re producing enough business in this environment that it does warrant the ability to expand.”

And, like many in the county, Foley is remaining optimistic for what’s to come later this summer.

“From a business perspective, I hope that events and festivals and concerts and those gatherings that provide such a soulful connection for people start again for next season and Silo can find themselves in those environments once again in celebration,” she said. “Those are our favorite places to be.”

Silo is available for online ordering, and depending on ability to meet online demand, Foley and Steve hope to offer delivery in the near future. Silo Food Truck will also be available for walkup service Thursday through Sunday from 3 to 7 p.m..

For more information about Silo Food Truck and its to-go food program, visit silofoodtruck.com. For additional information on Liquid State Brewing, visit liquidstatebeer.com.

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