Just slightly over a year old and Moon Tower Inn has grown so significantly, they're taking on a huge remodeling project to reduce wait times, increase their beer offerings and generally, make the place a lot more efficient and eco-friendly. The specialty hot dog stand with an all-outdoor seating area will be closed during prime patio dining months in the process, but their previous success suggests that it's only a minor setback.
Owner Evan Shannon talked to Eater about their rapid progression, their new food truck, the Moon Tower Meat Wagon, his favorite hot dog and his high hopes for Moon Tower's neighborhood, the Second Ward.
When you started a little over a year ago, did you have any doubts about the location? Because honestly, this place is a "destination" spot, not a "neighborhood" spot. Or did you just think, screw it, people will come anyway?
You always take a chance when you open a business. It's an inevitability that you're going out on a limb to try something new or different. So, it comes with the territory. You come up with the idea, you find a location, and you roll with it depending on how things go, and luckily for us, people actually enjoyed the food and the environment and kept showing up.
You seem to have a cult-like following. How do you think you achieved that?
Honestly, Facebook helps a lot. We have our own personality and Facebook has allowed us to show our personality. A lot of people agree with it, some people don't. It also comes with the territory. We just want to be out here and have a good time and do things the way we want them to be done. From years of working in the industry and looking around, we got tired of being in the same types of places, doing the same types of things and figured, why not? So, we tried it out and the cult following just kinda came. I mean, it's a backyard environment. Who doesn't enjoy hanging out, drinking craft beer in a backyard with friends? It's very chill. There's no ego involved here. Other than a good sense of humor, everybody's happy go lucky. That's what we're looking for. Like-minded people who get it. Not everybody's going to get it, and that's fine too. Because if you don't get it, you're not going to have a good time anyway.
What's your favorite hot dog here?
It's the lamb. It's always been the lamb, Merguez-style. It's old world, it's a really old recipe that we use and it comes out perfect.
How did you come up with the hot dog concept? It seemed you were right before everyone else on that trend, at least here in town.
It happens. You do something a little bit different and people take notice and want to do their own spin-off on the same thing. You know, it just kinda worked out for us. We looked at all types of food after finding the location and tried to figure out exactly what we wanted. My business partner, it was his idea (the hot dogs) and trying out the different flavorings and adding things inside the casing, on top or around. It just really worked out for us.
You're introducing a new food truck called the "Meat Wagon" while you're closed down for remodeling. Is that a permanent addition?
Yes. The Moon Tower Meat Wagon is something that everyone's been asking for, while we've been open. With this downtime here, it gave us the perfect opportunity to roll it out. It'll come off Facebook, just like everything else we've done, that will give everybody the updates of where we are around town. We're still trying to find the best locations, but we will have it out there six, maybe seven days a week.
What is the biggest challenge trying to run two businesses at once?
Luckily, it's essentially the same business. I'm not having to do two completely different things for two different entities altogether. It can fall under one umbrella. So, that'll be beneficial in a lot of ways. It's all about having the right people in the right places. If the right people have the passion to do it and actually care about the place, and we have nothing but that as far as our employees go, it really works out for us.
Do you think the place is going to lose some of its charm once you knock down some of the old stuff and build it anew?
This place did have its own charm when we opened it up, but by no means what it is now. Aesthetically speaking, we're pretty good at making things look really nice and fitting for the environment. Every step we're taking in this rebuild, honestly we're taking note of everything and making sure we're on par with how we have it and the current environment. Eater: So, matching up with the personality you've already established? Evan: Absolutely.
When did you decide that a rebuild was what you had to do?
We've known for a while. It's inevitable. It's a 65-year old building and you put this much business through something that hasn't been used this heavily in 25-30 years, it's bound to deteriorate. In that sense, there's not a whole lot we can do about it. We just roll with the punches and it was a decision of either fixing things continuously or going ahead and just redoing it. And we decided to redo it.
What are you most looking forward to with the new facility?
The tap wall will be really fun. A new addition is something we've always wanted to have. Obviously, the space here has never let us do it. We're going to have 42 taps, 40 taps, two nitro taps. So, we'll have that on hand at all times and it will give us a chance to work with a lot of breweries that we haven't been able to work with, because of the size and the amount of space we have to store product and keep it fresh and keep it going. Other than that, we've got a few other ideas, but nothing I want to put out there because nothing is for sure, but we're coming out of it a lot more eco-conscious than we've had the opportunity to do with this place before. Anything we can do, we're going to do on that side as well. That, I'm really looking forward to. Hopefully people will follow us on this as well and I'm not looking for people to notice as much as I'm hoping that people will do the same thing, and see if we can't get the east side (this side of town) to fall into a different kind of trend than people are expecting. I have no problem with the town homes, but I like the smaller, more indie businesses. There's Vinyl Junkie down the street, and that's what I'd like to see more of a SOHO/Heights type of thing pop up in this neighborhood, and that's why we're rebuilding and staying here and trying to support growth.
Well, it doesn't look like the location has been a problem so far, right?
People were a bit sketched out to come out here and check it all out, but this being the more industrial side of the Second Ward, it doesn't feel so rough. In reality, it's just families. It's not a terrifying place. It gives people a chance to come out and see a different side of town. Some people have lived here 20 years and never driven out to the east side, never had a reason to. I have to believe there are lots of pockets like this all over town and we just found this one while riding bikes.
What is the one thing you wish you would have known a year ago?
Honestly, that's far above and beyond me. We've progressed so far over the year. Looking back, I started out on the slab with a giant grill with mesquite charcoal. I cooked all the hot dogs for six months by myself. We've really progressed so much so fast, out of necessity, which is a beautiful, beautiful thing, because we moved faster than we expected. And that's great, I would never complain about that, but it definitely pushed us to keep up, and in that sense, I could never imagine we'd be to this point right now. It's not a bad thing. It's an interesting thing, surprising for even us, honestly.
Any last words?
The Meat Wagon is hitting the streets. We'll be back bigger and better and the ideas is less lines, faster food, more beer, happier times. Being able to provide everyone with a good time and not having to wait an hour to get food and thirty minutes to get a beer and everything else. It's our chance to make people happier.