Apple Valley restaurant builds kitchen on wheels

Vivo Mobile Kitchen expands catering possibilities

Chefs work side-by-side in the Vivo Mobile Kitchen to prepare a fresh, locally-sourced, restaurant quality meal for up to 250 people at any location. Submitted photo

A catering service that sends chefs to cook fresh, locally-sourced dishes at any venue or location — that was the vision that led David Peterson and Daniel Wesener to creating the Vivo Mobile Kitchen.

Vivo opened in Apple Valley in 2014, and the restaurant quickly earned the reputation of being one of the best restaurants in the city. Guests can walk in, make a reservation or book Vivo’s private gathering room, which seats 80 or accommodates 120 standing guests. The restaurant also has another private room that can seat between 40 and 45 guests. But, the space wasn’t enough.

“We were fielding calls from people who wanted to throw parties that were bigger. We thought: ‘Well, we are either going to have to rent another space, or close down the restaurant for the day to fit the groups or build something that can get to you,’ ” Director of Culinary Development Daniel Wesener said. “We decided that was the path we were going to take — create a mobile catering vehicle that can handle parties of up to 205 people. Now we don’t have to worry about the size of the restaurant people because we can bring the restaurant to you.”

Wesener said they got the idea for a food-truck based catering service in August 2016, when Vivo chefs found themselves caught in a rainstorm while catering an outdoor event.

“We were literally standing there holding our tent down. It rained so hard that our grill went out,” Wesener said. “We packed up and went home with our tails between our legs thinking we just got beat out by a semi-dangerous thunderstorm. We were driving home and we turned the corner, and there was a food truck there, serving food.”

Wesener said that is when they first thought of a kitchen on wheels. They began working on the layout with truck builders in September 2016, but it wasn’t until early April 2017 that the Vivo Mobile Kitchen was delivered.

Figuring out how to fit everything in the truck was a challenge, Wesener said.

Mark Palm, owner of Chameleon Concessions and known as Minnesota’s top food truck designer, worked with Vivo chefs to design a truck that would not only have all of the necessary equipment, but would also make the layout user-friendly. Wesener said the development process was long, but they got it right.

Vivo catered its first mobile kitchen event on May 4.

The chefs can cook scratch food on-site, as the Vivo Mobile Kitchen holds every piece of equipment the chefs have in the Vivo restaurant building. They’ve packed three ovens, a grill, a deep fryer, five refrigerators and a freezer into the truck. Vivo staff can also bring along a separate trailer containing tables, chairs and dishes needed for an event.

“We bring the restaurant anywhere without compromise,” Director of Community Development David Peterson said. “Most catering companies are geared around big numbers, not necessarily the quality of the food. We are not compromising the quality of our food. It’s a locally sourced, seasonal scratch kitchen on wheels.”

At every catering event, as many as two chefs prepare the food from scratch on-site. They serve appetizers, salads, entrees, deserts and drinks, just as they do in the restaurant.

While some events encourage people to come up to the truck to get their food, Wesener said that people may not always see the truck at events because guests will be inside while the chefs are cooking outside.

The Vivo Mobile Kitchen has been especially useful for receptions at locations that do not have a kitchen.

“We can cook beautiful, plated food with nice garnishes and serve it in a beautiful, refurnished barn that doesn’t have a kitchen,” Wesener said. “What we provide is restaurant quality anywhere you are.”

Vivo’s dedication to using fresh, locally-sourced items set it apart. They order basil from Edina, tomatoes from Waverly and corn from local farmers. They say the quality of ingredients and the care given to preparing each plate makes Vivo’s catering service unique.

“Most of the time, when you are at a catered event, people don’t go away talking about the food. It’s just there, and you eat it,” Peterson said. “What we are trying to do is change that and have people leave talking about the food. We want the food to add to the experience.”

The Vivo Mobile Kitchen has been out to an event every week throughout the summer. Some weeks, they’ve gone to three or four. Wesener said they’ve already had to turn away business because the truck has been booked.

This summer, Vivo used the mobile kitchen for several community outreach events. It appeared throughout the summer at the Music in Kelley Park concert series on Friday nights. They served concession-style food that was family-priced and locally-sourced.

“We don’t want to be a restaurant in the community; we want to be a restaurant that is part of our community,” Peterson said.

They also partner with Tree House, an organization that works with at risk youths. Vivo brings the mobile kitchen to Bloomington every second Thursday of the month to provide meals for 40 at-risk youths.

“It’s been really fun because the kids get to know us, and they are excited about Vivo,” Wesener said. “They are always happy and smiling. That’s what it’s all about – trying to make people happy.”

This fall, the Vivo Mobile Kitchen will appear at the Octoberfest event in Kelley Park as well as a few community parades. They are considering options for expansion, which include a possibility of a second mobile kitchen.

Vivo is located in Apple Valley at 15435 Founders Lane. People interested in booking the Vivo Mobile Kitchen should contact Director of Catering and Private Gatherings Stephanie Wesener at [email protected] or call 952-891-8802.

Contact Amy Mihelich at [email protected].