Four years ago, Brunch Box, a cart featuring “big food” that earned a reputation for satisfying the most epic of hungers, entered the Portland food cart scene. Derek Coughlin worked for Ryan Incles, one of the original owners, at the food cart and eventually became a co-owner himself.
Recently Coughlin and Incles celebrated the grand opening of their first brick-and-mortar location in downtown Portland. Though he is aware of the current trend in which many chefs transition from food cart to full-on restaurant, Coughlin hasn’t focused much on what others are doing. For him, the Brunch Box food cart, which is still open just a few blocks west of their restaurant on 5th Avenue, was always a means to an end.
“I never really wanted to be in a cart,” he explains. “I always wanted to do this, but we didn’t have the money. Now we do. Well … close,” says Coughlin.
The new Brunch Box restaurant brings its food cart fans just what they have come to expect:
“Lots of burgers, some of which are ridiculously big,” says Coughlin.
To give you a sense of what “ridiculously” means, Coughlin says their claim to fame — and most popular menu item — is the “YouCanHasCheeseburger,” consisting of cheese, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, mustard, ketchup and mayo between two grilled cheese sandwiches on Texas toast.
That’s correct. The “buns” are actually two sandwiches themselves.
Where did the idea for a burger bookended by two grilled cheese sandwiches come from?
Coughlin says the inspiration came from one of Incles’ friends.
“Ryan had a friend who used to make it as his employee meal and we put it on a menu thinking that nobody would buy it, and it’s become a monster.”
But while that option may be the most popular, pound for pound it pales in comparison to other options like the “Redonkadonk” and the “Monstrosity,” whose names evoke a certain Homer Simpson-like quality, adding toppings like bacon, fried eggs and even Spam to the mix. And of course, there is the option to add even more toppings, via the “build your own burger” cards.
Although their restaurant and cart are called “Brunch Box,” it’s a bit of a different take on the concept.
“It’s not the word ‘brunch’ that you normally hear,” says Coughlin. “It’s breakfast and lunch.” In other words, Brunch Box doesn’t offer foods that would fit the in-between breakfast and lunch category, but rather breakfast items and lunch items.
The breakfast side of the equation features equally gargantuan sandwich choices, but instead of grilled cheese sandwiches supporting each end of the entrée, diners can opt for a two-slice caravan of French toast with real maple syrup or Oregon Blackberry jam.
Their new restaurant also affords Coughlin and Incles the opportunity to introduce items not possible in their cart, such as beer options, fries and onion rings.
And Coughlin is hoping to expand to more locations in Portland and beyond.
Though the food cart wasn’t the way that Coughlin imagined he’d break into the restaurant business, the fact that he’s reached his goal of opening a restaurant has given him the experience and momentum he needs.
“Me and my partner, Ryan, have been cooking for 30 years, between the two of us. We’re not from a tradition, but we’ve been doing this for a long time,” he says proudly.
“If this one goes well, we want to do the east side,” says Coughlin. “Then we want to do the ‘burbs and see how that goes.”
Editor’s Note - May 24, 2013: A previous version of this article stated that Derek Coughlin and Ryan Incles moved to Portland from rural western Maryland and opened up Brunch Box. In fact, Derek Coughlin first worked for Ryan Incles and later became a co-owner of Brunch Box. Ryan Incles moved to Portland from Florida.