Late night at ‘The Spot’
Sky-Hi News Contributor
Daytime traffic on US Highway 40 may not notice a small white trailer adorned with a Colorado flag logo parked near the Winter Park Post Office.
But at 10 p.m. “The Spot,” Winter Park’s only late-night food trailer, illuminates its “Open” sign and starts serving. By 1 a.m. it is buzzing with activity, warmth and camaraderie. The hungry crew who huddle beneath a heat lamp near the trailer is a mish-mash of locals who work late, touring band members just finishing a set, and tourists in town for the weekend. They all have one thing in common — an appetite for something hot, fresh, delicious, and served late.
Cody Martin, the 26-year-old entrepreneur behind The Spot, greets his customers, often by name and type of sandwich.
“Hey Kevin — Italian with bacon?”
Martin is a one-man restaurateur, acting as host, waiter, and cook. It’s like a scene from Cheers: He really does know everybody’s name. He has been in the food and beverage industry for much of his working life, making him a natural at what he calls “the front of the house.”
“Interacting with customers is definitely my favorite part,” he says. Martin remains unfazed and friendly as customers line up, some more sober than others.
“An upside to the after-bar crowd is for the most part, people are really happy and are excited to get any kind of food in them,” he said.
The tip jar fills with generosity fueled by a few drinks, which Martin admits is another upside.
Martin’s “back of the house” culinary skills have grown with The Spot, although there is no “back of the house” in a 10-by-8 foot trailer. Everything is made to order in full view.
The menu boasts homemade tomato bisque soup and a variety of gourmet Panini-style grilled cheese sandwiches featuring ingredients like smoked Gouda, thinly sliced apples, bleu cheese, and fresh basil. Most popular is “Black and Blue: blue and provolone cheeses, caramelized onions, and bacon. Prices range from $3 to $7, with meat add-ons like bacon, turkey, and ham for a small up-charge.
“Everyone always thinks of a food truck as tacos or burgers, but not gourmet grilled cheese,” said Martin.
Andrew Prom, a frequent Spot customer, sings Martin’s praises, both for creating “the best grilled cheese I’ve ever had” and for his perseverance in taking an idea and making it into a business.
“Cody is innovative and creative, plus he has very good taste,” said Prom. “I heard talk from so many people about starting up something like this. He took the initiative and actually did it.”
Have trailer, will cook
The Spot originally opened just over a year ago in January 2014.
When the 7-Eleven in Winter Park closed, Martin saw an opportunity in the wake of the 24-hour convenience store’s departure. He had most recently been living in Fort Collins where he and his friends frequented a late-night gyro stand. It inspired his venture into the food truck business and gave him the perfect name.
“We always called it ‘the spot,’ even though that wasn’t the actual name of the place. So if we got separated, we would meet there — it was like, yeah, see you at ‘the spot’.”
Martin had his work cut out for him to replicate the popular urban food truck movement in a small town with a seasonal economy, and on a shoestring budget. Compare the Fraser Valley’s full-time, year-round population of about 2,600 people to a city like Fort Collins, with 160,000. The business model falls short in the customer category. But Martin isn’t worried.
“The locals really keep me going, especially on weeknights,” he said.
Finding an affordable “food truck” (or in this case, trailer) was another challenge. Martin searched for months for the right vehicle and finally bought his kitchen-on-wheels from a craigslist ad.
“The guy who had it sold brats out in front of a Lowe’s,” he said.
The trailer was equipped for serving food and required only minor plumbing upgrades to meet health codes. It snugly accommodates Martin, a sandwich prep counter and a couple of Panini grills.
For a small operation like Martin’s, support from fellow businesses is a positive boon to his bottom line. Like most things in a small ski town, customers find him by word-of-mouth.
“Other businesses keep sending people my way, including other restaurants,” he said.
While it’s nice of Martin to give them credit, he does fulfill a specific niche in the market.
Being a business owner takes a commitment that Martin is willing to make, but it significantly eats up his free time and sleep. Martin sleeps an average of six hours a night, and spends days off buying supplies and managing the books.
“It pretty much took away my freedom,” he said. “There’s more than just being here when it’s open — I am prepping before and tearing down after. If I get home by three I’m happy. Usually it’s more like three-thirty.”
Then he’s up at 9:30 the next morning so he can go to his other job waiting tables.
For those who don’t keep hours conducive to grabbing a late-night grilled cheese, rest assured: Summer is coming, and Martin takes advantage of The Spot’s portability. Last summer he made daytime appearances at many festivals and events, and he plans to do the same again this year.
“My favorite festival was the beer festival. Beer and grilled cheese just go hand-in-hand,” he said.
The Spot is open from 10 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday nights. It is located in downtown Winter Park on the west side of Highway 40 next to The Local Experience shoe store.
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Over the 25 years the Winter Park Pub has been open, it’s built a reputation as a popular ski hole for locals and visitors alike.