A shiny new food trailer rolled into the front patio of Dillinger Brewing Company on an unexpectedly rainy Tucson morning last week. “The Blacktop Grill” was emblazoned across its side panel. Despite the weather, Eric Sipe and Gabe Ceniceros set about the task of converting seating space into eating space with cheery determination.
Sipe and Ceniceros have worked together since 2016, when Sipe’s Dillinger Brewing Company opened its original taproom on Oracle Road. Ceniceros owns and operates The Blacktop Grill, a food truck that often served the brewery’s hungry customers.
In the coming weeks, these two friends and business collaborators will join forces permanently, unveiling the Blacktop Grill’s new food truck (and new menu) on the patio of Dillinger Brewing Company’s space at the corner of 9th Street and 4th Avenue.
This tasty development will mark the first time Dillinger Brewing Company has been able to provide a consistent, on-site dining option for its guests. Previously, the brewery carried a small selection of bar snacks, and was only able to book food trucks for special events due to constraints with street parking. Sipe knew he’d have to come up with a better option to keep customers sated while they enjoyed his brews, or risk having guests leave early to seek out food. It didn’t take long for him to reach out to Ceniceros with his concept of an on-premise, permanent food truck. “I wanted someone I already knew and trusted and liked to work with,” explained Sipe. “The Blacktop Grill’s food is great, and Gabe is great, so this was easy.”
Ceniceros didn’t hesitate to sign on. “I’m grateful that people love our food and feel very blessed that we’ve gotten to this point that most restaurants don’t get to see,” he said. “That gives me confidence.”
Sipe recalls Ceniceros’ eagerness to pursue the project. “I approached Gabe and within about five minutes he said yes. By the end of the week, he was putting a down payment on a new truck.”
This collaborative business model is not entirely new to Tucson. Breweries and beer bars have long been booking mobile food trucks to serve their patrons. Yet there has been a shift in the last couple of years to more permanently established small kitchens — many of them former food trucks — popping up next to popular local watering holes.
Five days a week you can order pizza from Anello to enjoy across the alley at Crooked Tooth Brewing Company, and Substance Diner has been parked outside of MotoSonora Brewing Company for a couple of years now. Borderlands Brewing Company established Pinches Mexican food cart as a permanent fixture of their brewery several years ago, to the delight of their patrons. The most recent successful collaboration of this nature was forged between Ciao Down pizza and Tucson Hop Shop, who now share patio space at the Metal Arts Village on Dodge Boulevard. Ciao Down opened there last October, and both businesses have seen huge positive impacts on sales and customer satisfaction with the new partnership.
Ceniceros and Sipe feel confident that they have the experience, community support, and business acumen to be the next dynamic duo in town. “These relationships between breweries and food trucks have been happening for a long time, and people are starting to see the advantages of doing this kind of thing on a more permanent basis,” said Ceniceros. “I honestly think that this will bring our business to another level,” reiterated Sipe. “It’s a synergy thing. People like to eat while they drink beer.”
The patio kitchen will serve a more extensive menu than the Blacktop Grill’s smaller, mobile food cart. Ceniceros is adding some of the more popular items from The Blacktop Grill’s brick-and-mortar establishment on Thornydale Road to the gourmet quesadillas and jumbo all-beef hot dogs that have kept the mobile food cart busy at bars and breweries around town.
“One thing that’s been flying off the shelves is our nachos, so we are adding green chile and elote nachos to our downtown menu,” said Ceniceros. You can also expect to find a new jalapeño popper hot dog, as well as tried-and-true options like the Fancy Quesadilla with spinach and feta cheese. “I’m a Texan Quesadilla guy,” said Sipe, referring to the Blacktop Grill’s quesadilla filled with melted asadero cheeses, roasted corn, and green chiles, and topped with cotija cheese and Sriracha spice.
Any meal served up by Ceniceros and his team will pair perfectly with a cold, fresh Dillinger Brewing Company beer. The Serrano Seduction, an American Wheat Ale with chiles, is a spicy complement to any dish. Ceniceros likes his beers “nice, light, and chuggable,” and the Shift Beer Blonde definitely checks those boxes.
Ceniceros and Sipe plan to “softly” open the patio kitchen late next week, with an official Grand Opening slated for Friday, January 20 – Sunday, January 22. While the operation gets its sea legs, Ceniceros plans to run the trailer himself. “Anytime I start something new, I gotta get in there myself,” he said. “There are always kinks to work out.”
Dillinger Brewing Company will also be adjusting to expanded business hours, which were brought about to accommodate the Blacktop Grill’s lunchtime customers.
Fans of the brewery’s patio will be pleased to know that only one customer seat was sacrificed to fit the trailer into its new forever home. “Which is great because on a typical day this time of year, it’s beautiful, and everyone wants to be outside,” said Sipe.
Enjoying a beer with a meal is a classic culinary pairing, a no-brainer for craft beer lovers and foodies alike. However, the union of two well-known Tucson businesses, each excellent in its own right, delivers gustatory greatness beyond the sum of their individual contributions.
The collaboration between the Blacktop Grill and Dillinger Brewing Company arose quickly and naturally as the best friendships do. Ceniceros aptly summarized the fortuitous pairing:
“This plan was unexpected, but how could you say no to Dillinger and Fourth Avenue?”
Dillinger Brewing Company is located at 402 E. Ninth St. Their new business hours will be Monday thru Thursday noon – 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon – 10 p.m., and Sunday noon – 7 p.m. The Blacktop Grill Food Trailer will be open during all brewery hours of operation. For more information, follow both Dillinger Brewing Company and The Blacktop Grill on Facebook.
Jessie Jean Mance was born in Tucson and never met a riparian area she didn’t like. She is a lover of lightning, sunsets, mezcal, music, and other intoxicating experiences. Mance resolutely believes that fresh air is medicine, burritos are the...