East Hill’s Brown Bagger food truck, stationed within the tree tunnel of Wisteria Tavern, has been sparking rumors of the best burger in the Panhandle since opening in January 2021.
But what exactly is it about them that has contributed to the constant sell-outs?
Some customers say it’s the freshly baked potato bun from Pensacola’s Craft bakery. Others argue it’s hand-formed quarter pound Waygu beef that serves as the spotlight of the signature Bagger Burger.
Brown Bagger co-owner Tim Thompson said the brand goes deeper than the ingredients placed inside the “hang loose” beige bag.
Spirit of the Brown Bagger
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Thompson and co-owner Ellis O’Neal said despite the success they had in their individual careers in the years leading up to opening Brown Bagger, there was something that felt indescribably special about the food truck concept.
After a game of disc golf, the two began swapping kitchen war stories and goals for the future. Once realizing how likeminded they were, they began to toy with the idea of opening up a business together.
Thompson worked at Peg Leg Pete’s and Global Grill, giving him the experience he needed to handle both high-volume orders and fine dining techniques that helped to shape a place of his own.
“Personally, I feel like we fall right in the middle, which would be like a fast-casual but a little on the higher side for the experience and the product,” Thompson said.
At the time, O’Neal had a thriving career in designing kitchen equipment and Thompson was co-founder of Crystal Creak Organics, a local CBD company. Both were told it was ludicrous to leave their jobs behind to start fresh to do something that would just be fun.
Even their individual differences were deemed strengths as business partners, as Thompson considers himself an “eternal optimist” where the sky is the limit, while O’Neal keeps their anchor rooted to the ground.
Once connecting with staff from Wisteria Tavern, who guaranteed the two a stable spot to set up shop if they were to make it happen, Thompson said they were given the green light they needed to put their plans into action.
“We found a trailer because everything was so cheap, everything was so risky, we were like, ‘Alright, let’s do it. Let’s take this risk,'” Thompson said.
They started writing up brand proposals and a menu everyone could relate to and would bring people together.
“I wanted to cast a very wide net. I wanted to build a brand and experience that everyone could come and enjoy. I think that has come to fruition,” Thompson said. “We have such a diverse group of people that support us – you got your businesspeople, your working class people, all your work crews out there stop through. We’ve got college kids, older people, it’s all family-friendly, dogs, the whole nine yards. … We want it to be a place you can kind of escape. “
Even if with a menu built off of seemingly simple items, like burgers and fries, there were still hours of prep involved to take their food to the next level.
Days were spent slicing potatoes into what would become crispy, salty, shoestring fries. Thompson said their lives changed when they realized they could purchase pre-sliced brussels sprouts, which now serve as one of the most popular sides when fried up and tossed with a balsamic glaze.
They knew fairly quickly they were going to need more equipment and more staff for the business they were getting, which now equates in volume to a full-size restaurant’s lunch rush, Thompson said.
“We both had newborns at the same time. … We just kept our heads down and we pushed,” Thompson said. “It wasn’t some smooth, easy path.”
Hard road toward sobriety
While it appeared from the outside that Thompson was reaching the pinnacle of success – like a booming business and beautiful family – he still was making the silent daily decision to pursue his sobriety.
Now, seven years after making the decision to stay dry, his sobriety is one of the most reoccurring items on his morning gratefulness list he constructs the first two minutes of every day.
“I would be dead or in jail,” Thompson said of his alcoholism. “I just wasn’t a good person, it was because I was depressed and I had an addiction. Life is hard now, but it was really hard then. I thank my wife and my support group and myself, I give some props to myself. It’s hard to be proud of myself, at least for me it is. “
“I had an epiphany, I said no more. … I ended up buying a house, getting engaged, having a kid, creating two companies, selling a house, getting a piece of real estate. … It just goes on and on and that was all only possible because of my sobriety. I love sharing it because it’s so hard and there’s so many people battling addiction, “Thompson added.
Thompson said the future is only looking up, as he and O’Neal hope to expand their footprint in the future and bring the brand to different locations around Pensacola.
The Brown Bagger food truck is located at 3808 N. 12th Ave. Brown Bagger is open from 11 am to 8 pm Monday through Thursday, 11 am to 9 pm Friday and Saturday and closed Sunday.