UPDATED: The Saga to Save Animales Barbecue and Boomin Barbecue in Minneapolis

City ordinance prohibits smokers outside their food trucks

UPDATED 3:50 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30: I reached out to Jon Wipfli today, who told me there wasn’t much of an update, but he has a couple of health inspectors working with him all day. A city spokesperson told me the health department is working with Animales BBQ all week reviewing food prep, handling, and hygiene practices. The city responded: “If the business can prove it is meeting these practices, Health will extend the deadline to close for the season until a date later in 2022. This will include a review of the smokers. In the meantime, CPED will work with the Animales BBQ to submit a variance request which would address both the zoning and licensing issues. Over the fall and winter, Health and CPED will review its zoning, licensing, and health codes for opportunities to allow outdoor smokers.”

This is ridiculous. Two of the best barbecue operations in the state of Minnesota are run out of food trucks in Minneapolis: Jon Wipfli’s Animales Barbeque Co. and Dylan Boerboom’s Boomin Barbecue. On Saturday morning, both posted on Instagram about a fight they’ve been in with the city of Minneapolis over their smokers.

“It was about three weeks ago, and we put up a huge fight because at first they gave us just six days,” Wipfli told me on Saturday. City council members had assured him they were going to try to change the ordinance—but they didn’t. “We didn’t want to go public with pressure, but we’re out of options,” he said.

On Saturday afternoon, after we posted the original version of this story and reached out for comment, Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey replied, “These awesome local joints are putting Minneapolis on the BBQ map, and we will find a way to keep them smoking. We are going to find a legal way to make this work.”

The background on the issue: Minneapolis doesn’t allow food trucks to have anything outside the truck. No condiment tables, garbage cans, signage, seating, and no smokers. Offset smokers are a very common way of smoking meat outside food trucks all over the country. Animales has been running these smokers outside their truck since August of 2018; they’ve been inspected every year, no one ever said a thing until now.

“There are people all over the city of Minneapolis with these smokers outside all the time, everyone else hides them,” Wipfli said. “The city of Minneapolis requires them to have the NSF tag, which basically says this product is safe for cooking food. It costs thousands of dollars to get the tag, and the smoker manufacturers don’t do it.”

Animales can still operate without it, but if they go back to only smoking in the truck, their capacity to smoke meat falls by 70%. “Not only is it an archaic ordinance, it’s stifling for a small BBQ business and puts a hard stop on making better BBQ in Minneapolis,” Animales wrote on its Instagram page.

Courtesy of Animales Barbeque Co.

“We’ll have to lay people off, cut people’s hours, and if we can’t get it resolved by next year we’ll have to move to the suburbs,” Wipfli said. Both organizations have been allowed to continue through this month, but until something changes, they have to stop by Oct. 1.

“The city of Savage is willing to rewrite the food code just to have us there,” Boomin’s Boerboom told me. “We love Ombibulous. It guts us that we have to consider leaving. We will be here through the winter, but we can’t do what we do without the offset pits. I’ll go to Hudson; their health inspector said if there’s anything [they] can do to help us open, they would.”

Both trucks are working on getting a website up for people to add their names to a petition, hopefully to shake out some change.

“This was a full-on gotcha. They cited the Texas Monthly article,” Boerboom said, referring to an article praising the Minneapolis barbecue scene. “They’re actually demanding that we get rid of our tables,” he added, lamenting the Minneapolis jobs that will be lost if Boomin has to leave the city.

Wipfli agrees that it was a restaurant person who turned them in: “The detail of the complaint is that it was someone who knows the food code very well, and the inspectors said the article triggered it.”

“The mayor’s been responsive, we’ve had meetings with [city council members] Michael Rainville and Elliot Payne, they’ve been responsive, but right now the health department is putting a hard line down,” said Wipfli. “It’d just be nice if they’d work with us, because what we’re doing is safe and delicious.”