Street eats in Burnsville

Dan Gustafson, a Burnsville City Council member who has emerged from bankruptcy, is going into the food-truck business with the Wicked Palate. Photo by John Gessner

City Council member to unveil American-style food truck

Customers of the Wicked Palate food truck soon to debut in Burnsville should approach the fare without remorse. The proprietors sure aren’t offering any apologies.

They will serve American food writ large, with high regard for flavor and little for calorie or cholesterol count.

The still-developing menu will include the “Fat A$$ Burger,” the Palate’s thick double burger. The “OMG Burger” will be topped with pulled pork, deep-fried cracklin pork, caramelized onions and “MOJO” sauce.

“Which is our secret sauce,” said Dan Gustafson of Burnsville, who is launching the Wicked Palate with his wife, Suzanne.

“We’re going to have some fun with this,” Gustafson said. “This business is not only about providing good food, but people need to have fun when they stop at our truck.”

The Wicked Palate will start arriving in a matter of weeks at parks and business parks in Burnsville, said Gustafson. Last week the couple took delivery of the 20-foot culinary caravan, a trailer hauled up from Georgia and deposited along the curb in front of their Lacota Lane home.

The Wicked Palate is a comeback attempt for Gustafson, a two-term City Council member whose Chapter 7 bankruptcy made headlines in 2010.

Gustafson, now 59, had $1.28 million in debts discharged in federal bankruptcy court. Before filing for bankruptcy he experienced a sharp, recession-driven downturn in his business, an Eagan freight-forwarding franchise called Concert Group Logistics. The franchisor took over the failing franchise and cancelled Gustafson’s contract.

Gustafson claimed $223,375 in assets, the largest of which was his home, worth $212,000 in 2009.

Post-bankruptcy, he worked for nine months as a route manager for the Mendota Heights location of freight company Manna Distribution Services.

“It just didn’t work out,” Gustafson said.

He and Suzanne pivoted to the growing food-truck movement in the Twin Cities.

“It’s pretty good-sized,” Gustafson said of their investment in the Wicked Palate. “We were blessed by Suzanne’s parents, let’s put it that way. They both died in the past year. She got a small inheritance, (divided among) six kids.”

Is it scary launching a business at 59?

“Actually, no one employing me is far scarier,” Gustafson said.

“We chose to invest in a business that we thought we could grow,” he said, freely admitting that he would have been a poor candidate for a business loan. “You’ve got to take risk in life if you want reward.”

Food trucks in the Twin Cities tend to have gourmet or specialty leanings, leaving an opening for his American fare, said Gustafson, who promises high-quality meats and buns on his truck.

“I haven’t eaten off a truck yet that wasn’t good food, and trust me, we’ve tried them,” he said.

He’s taking menu advice from a friend, trained chef Nate Bode, the former owner of Burnsville businesses Kraemer’s Catering and the AppleWood Rustic Grille and AppleWood Event Center.

“The core menu is what we came up with, Suzanne and I,” Gustafson said. “Nate is helping us develop the different spices and sauces we’re going to use.”

Along with those burgers, entrees will include Chicago-style hot dogs and beef sandwiches and Southern pulled-pork sandwiches.

“That’s a Southern-style pulled pork with the cole slaw on top,” Gustafson said. “In the South, when you order a hot dog or pulled pork, they always ask if you want slaw.”

Don’t forget fries.

“We’re going to have regular fries and sweet potato fries, like Nate served at AppleWood,” said Gustafson, who, after losing his freight franchise, helped Bode at his business before it was felled by what Gustafson described as a recession-driven drop in catering clients. “Nate used to sell out of those all the time.”

Gustafson has obtained a transient merchant permit from the city of Burnsville and was in the process of finalizing a license from the state Department of Health.

“You can park your truck on any (Burnsville) street it’s legal to park on,” he said. “Because I’m a council member, I did my diligence. I went from the city attorney on down, talking to people about how to make this thing work.”

He and Suzanne hope to draw enough business to hire an employee or two. For now, Dan said, the Wicked Palate will remain in Burnsville.

Where, exactly?

“All over — wherever there’s a crowd,” he said.

John Gessner is at [email protected]