Photo | Lagniappe
A veteran food truck operator is bringing a new concept to downtown Mobile, as Box Owt celebrated a grand opening earlier this month.
Artious Walker, the owner of the Smac’s Shack food truck, purchased two buildings downtown and plans to convert the space into a courtyard with five small restaurant stalls that will act as a culinary business incubator, he said.
“It’s the first outdoor, multi-dining concept in Mobile,” Walker said. “As many as five vendors fit in there.”
The initial concept called for shipping containers to be used as mini kitchens, with seating on picnic tables out in the open. Since then, though, Walker said he and investors have looked at structural insulated paneling, which is seven times stronger than typical wood paneling.
The stalls will allow entrepreneurs with a concept to try out their craft without the investment in overheard.
“That’s the beauty of Box Owt,” Walker said. “If someone has a food concept and there’s not currently a market for it, they can try it out without having to worry about making a big investment. Many food truck owners would purchase a second truck before investing in brick-and-mortar establishments.”
The idea for the concept came at a time, during the COVID-19 pandemic, when restaurants had to deal with a number of new restrictions, Walker said. Indoor dining at brick-and-mortar restaurants was one of the first things to shut down in 2020.
“Food truck owners stepped up,” Walker said.
A more permanent version of Walker’s food truck will take up one of the stalls, while D’s Carnival Treats has signed on for another stall. There is interest in at least two of the last three spots, Walker said, but nothing that’s ready to announce at the moment.
Walker said tenants will be asked to sign a lease for the space and the same commissary kitchen rules that apply to food trucks will apply to these mini restaurants as well.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson praised the “micro-restaurant” concept at the most recent Mobile City Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 21. He had attended the groundbreaking a day earlier.
“We’re real excited it has found a place to start off as a dream,” Stimpson said. “So many of our small businesses today start with an idea or dream and so often what happens is somebody kills their dream. Thank goodness for Box Owt that nobody killed their dream and it will come to fruition in the next few months.”
Box Owt is open to anyone with a food concept. It will not be open to franchises or chain restaurants, Walker said.
“It’s not open to chains,” he said. “We’re not anticipating putting a Dairy Queen down there.”
Walker and investors bought the building next to the courtyard to allow for indoor dining in one of the rainiest places in the country. The building will have two 10-foot-wide, garage-style doors that can open onto the sidewalk.
Walker got investment help from his uncle, State Rep. Napoleon Bracy, who he considers a brother because they are close in age.
Bracy said Walker’s passion for the concept is what brought him on board early on.
“I felt like it was definitely something worth going for,” he said.
The Black-owned business is looking for a diverse portfolio of concepts and tenants to rent the stalls and have access to the foot traffic on Dauphin Street.
“We’re looking for a great deal of diversity,” Bracy said. “We want to help provide opportunities to folks who may not otherwise have the opportunity to own a business downtown.”
Box Owt is looking to fully open by Spring 2022, but Walker said the team is pushing to have at least one or two of the stalls ready for Carnival season to provide a proof of concept.
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