Like many college students, Paul O’Brien grew tired of eating ramen noodles when he was a biology student at Montana State University.
He knew he could eat better if he just learned how to cook. Fast-forward almost a decade and now O'Brien is walking away from a degree in cell biology from Montana State University and his MBA and doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Montana to open a food truck in his hometown of Billings.
Or is he? Seems like his business background can help with his business plan and O'Brien's work in physical therapy and biology likely helped him gain an appreciation for being healthy.
Plus, he has the perfect name for the food truck, Noodles O’Brien.
To save money O’Brien, 29, is leasing space in the commercial kitchens offered at the Billings Food Bank.
“One of the beauties of my approach is I am cooking off-site,” O’Brien said.
After checking out the street food scene in larger cities, including Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore., O’Brien discovered one key to food trucks is keeping their location consistent. When he opens his truck in early August, O'Brien plans to keep it primarily in the downtown area, targeting the business and medical crowd during the lunch hour and the pub crowd for dinner.
“What’s driving the business idea is my passion for food. I want to get some good healthy food out there for someone who is in a crunch for time. I try to eat healthy and I know how hard that is,” O’Brien said.
Meanwhile, he’s experimenting with recipes and finishing out his contract as a physical therapist with Rocky Mountain Home Care.
On the menu will be four options for noodles. That includes the basic comfort food — mac and cheese made with sharp cheddar and cream cheese. He’ll also have a Greek-style pasta salad made with orzo, tomato, red onion and feta cheese; spaghetti; a Thai coconut curry noodle bowl; and the healthiest option of all — zucchini noodles. The noodle dishes will all be meatless, but you can add on a serving of meat. Prices will range from $6 to $12.
O’Brien joins a growing group of food trucks in the Billings area. Billingsfoodtrucktracker.com lists 21 food trucks in Billings, including several barbecue and Mexican food trucks. It's great to see more diversity in the street food scene. O'Brien's truck will be the only one featuring noodles.
Plans are to offer fresh, local ingredients whenever possible and to be open year-round, targeting the hospital corridor two or three days a week, and Montana Avenue near Thirsty Street Brewing Co. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
It seems like O'Brien has smoothed out all the details, but if the truck doesn't fly, he's got a heck of a fall-back plan.