Troy Westre and his son, Zach, lean against the food truck they christened earlier this summer, temporarily escaping the Tuesday afternoon sun off Mullan Road. The two chatter about tacos, summer concert events and the year Zach spent working on a bison ranch in Australia. Beyond a tumble of farm buildings, several bison slowly graze their way across a field.
"We sold 330 burgers and, like, 600 tacos in a day and a half," Zach says, recounting the new Bitterroot Bison food truck's foray at the Butte Folk Festival last month. "We went through 170 pounds of bison meat. ... We had a line for seven hours."
Over the past three months, the Westres have spent nearly every weekend slinging bison dishes for hungry masses in Montana, Idaho and Washington. It's a direction Troy, who purchased his first bison in 1999, has wanted to take the business for some time. He's slowly built toward it, selling frozen meat at the Clark Fork River Market and grilling burgers in a breakdown tent at local brewfests. But he and his son feel the food truck opens new opportunities for Bitterroot Bison.
"Once we can get this up and running and get some more revenue flowing in, then we can go into these other things like different kinds of soaps, beauty products, expanding on the horn cups," Zach says. "We're going to try to take every piece of the bison."
Locals are likely already familiar with the Bitterroot Bison herd, not only for their roadside grazing along Highway 93 but also their presence on the menu at Lolo Peak Brewery. Executive Chef Eric Johnson says the Westres have been his bison supplier "since the beginning," and that longstanding relationship led Johnson to become part consultant, part mentor for the fledging food truck.
"I've always liked food trucks, I've always wanted to do one," Johnson says, "so it's kind of neat to just help those guys out, watch them grow and see how they do."
If there's one challenge the Westres have come across so far, it's communicating to customers that they raised the bison they're serving. Zach says he plans to tweak the truck's exterior to convey that message, but having folks ask where they get their meat "sucks."
"We've got to put 'From our ranch to you' on this," Troy adds, slapping the truck with his palm, "because that's a huge point I want to get across to people. As soon as they know that we're raising our animals, we're set aside from any dang food vendor that ever was."