Black Business Spotlight: Flame Mobile Kitchen

Photo sent Tommy McNeil with daughter Camryn

Backyard pandemic inspires successful catering business

During the pandemic, while many restaurants were closing, a tight-knit group of black men led by Tommy McNeil and certified chef Darren Hayes began hosting backyard cookouts as a way to social distance and stay connected. Those cookouts transformed into the Flame Mobile Kitchen, a successful catering business that operates out of a mobile kitchen trailer, bringing smoked and grilled favorites to events in the Twin Cities metro area.

McNeal and Hayes are developing an innovative dining experience that focuses on the customer experience. They do this by prioritizing community through food – physically going to the customer and tending to their needs.

McNeill, founder and co-owner of Flame Mobile Kitchen, stated, “During the height of the pandemic, we [found] we ourselves alternate backyard houses with an environment of social distancing, but we break bread together and have a sense of community.

“So during that time, my business partner Darren Hayes, who is our general manager and executive chef, really started honing his craft… And we knew that if we had that level of fun and entertainment building a community, others would want to as well. do so in a very safe and socially distanced environment.’

He continued, “So we created a mobile kitchen to meet customers, our people in our community, where they are, so they don’t necessarily have to sit in a closed diner or restaurant.

“We can meet them in public, in a socially distanced environment, where they can enjoy the unique kind of cuisine and dining experience that we offer.”

Some fan favorites from Flame Mobile Kitchen are the grilled salmon and smoked chicken wings. When ordering catering, customers can customize and work with Chef Hayes to create a menu that will best serve their guests. Flame Mobile Kitchen was recently spotted serving Hopkins School District Employee Appreciation Day.

McNeil explained how catering is the lifeblood of the business: “I always like to say that we’re not a typical food truck. You won’t find us on the high streets with the other food trucks. We are a mobile kitchen that caters primarily to catering and personal chef as well as special events.

“So we’re really exclusive and that’s a bigger draw for the community because they’re offered something that’s not the usual that we offer that’s unique to them — maybe the food choices that we offer and the customer experience , which we provide. As a result, our business is starting to expand.”

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Asked about some of the challenges of starting a business, McNeil detailed the long but focused process that comes with building a solid business foundation. “One of the things about our community that we’re limited to … there’s not a lot of us that are exposed to the backend process of registration — collecting and verifying and bringing in those resources to build a small business.

“So I found myself doing quite a bit of research,” he continued, “talking to like-minded people who’ve had some experience in starting their own business in the past, researching through the Internet and some business partners about it how to skillfully start this business.’

That process took a few toll, McNeil explained: “It was a six-month process to buy all the equipment we needed, get it registered with the state, get it inspected to make sure it was up to code.

“Now,” he added, “we’re entering our second year for the Flame Mobile Kitchen. And what we found is [that] with the growth of the business in the first year, we did not anticipate the interest the community would show in what we have to offer.”

Still, McNeil emphasized that a strong foundation and community interest are critical to business growth. “We, as humans, don’t usually look at the size, scale and scope because many of us haven’t been in a position with experience in that area.

“[It’s] really like hitting the ground running 100 miles but really for [Flame Mobile Kitchen] it’s all about the pace. It’s all about us really looking at what our three to five year plan is versus living day by day. So, we make predictions based on how we are performing today and where the business and the industry is going.

“Sometimes, [new business owners] we limit ourselves when we move faster than resources allow.”

The dedication and success of Flame Mobile Kitchen shows that the passion for community-oriented business is still alive and well in the Twin Cities.

Flame Mobile Kitchen has small pop-ups at the Lakeview Terrence Farmers Market in Robbinsdale on Saturdays in the summer from 8am to noon. Learn more by following their social media sites: @flame_mobile_kitchen on Instagram and Facebook or go to their website:

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