Mobile businesses

This photo captures Main Street, complete with Brick Oven Pizza, under a cloudy sky recently.

Bradford has numerous thriving businesses that patrons visit in one location, day after day. However, there are businesses that don’t have a door to lock at night or a physical address to list in the yellow pages. These businesses thrive on mobility and flexibility.

Aerial Imaging Services is a business owned and operated by Nate Bottorf, which provides various products related to images best captured from above.

Aerial Imaging Services offers the following: Aerial Photography, Aerial Inspections, Volumetrics, Site survey, Tower inspection, Aerial Thermal (FLIR), Accurate Aerial to ground temp monitoring, Aerial search and rescue, and more.

“My business grew out of a hobby, but also the need for sustainable employment in a small town,” said Bottorf. “Social Media is a huge thing for any business these days. In fact, it has outgrown the traditional website and is the prefered method for many. With the constant growth of E-commerce, smaller communities like ours can thrive.”

Bottorf explained that most of the products he sells are shipped to his customers.

“I have considered a store front, however with the lack of support from groups like the Chamber I see no reason. There just is no incentive and they generally tend to only support businesses that they favor,” Bottorf said. “With 95% of my business coming from outside of the area, I just don’t need the other 5% without incentive.”

According to the business’ Facebook page, Bottorf has been providing services for five years and the business continues to grow.

For area native Rob Gault and his girlfriend, Molli Vance, the owners of Brick Oven Pizza, the decision to operate a pizzeria that moves around grew from a combination of Gault’s previous employment and a desire to try something new.

“I think all areas could use some brick oven in their lives,” Gault said. “While I was manager at the ‘Brick and Brew’ in Ellicottville, N.Y., I decided I wanted to take the next step. I researched how to start a food truck business and after a few years of finding the funds and talking to many people, we found that the mobile brick oven was the best fit for us.”

Gault explained he also worked at Pizza Napoli while attending the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford and attended culinary classes in Denver that focused on the mobile wood-fired brick oven.

Both Gault and Vance were born and raised in the Bradford area. The duo cater events and also set up at various locations around Bradford to provide food to customers on-demand.

“We can cater any event. We’ve catered the Salamanca Schools where there have been 350+ people, and we’ve catered backyard birthday parties for 25 people,” Gault said. “We’ve received inquiries about graduation parties, weddings and rehearsals, picnics, reunions, etc. No event is too big or too small with our mobile oven.”

Contrary to those restaurants that require specific square footage and stationery equipment, the set up for Brick Oven Pizza is pretty straightforward.

“We’ve gotten pretty good at setting up and tearing down. We can do that in a half hour or so, but the oven takes a little longer to get up to the temperature we like to cook at. A good location for set up is literally any place you can drive a truck. We’ve set up on grass, on gravel, on pavement, etc. We just need an area to set up tables and a canopy in front of the oven. It is much easier if the space is level,” Gault said. “It isn’t very challenging to make pizzas at various locations. It’s basically the same as running a pizzeria except the staff and everything else are outside with the oven rather than inside. The most challenging part is dealing with the wind.”

Weather may be one point that interferes with a mobile business more than a traditional location, as it tends to be fickle in this area.

“We’ve been through some interesting storms. We make an attempt to push through it and ‘weather the storm’ but there have been times that the rain has shut us down unexpectedly,” Gault said. “I do watch the weather forecast every day to plan out the days that we are setting up. Sometimes, I’d be better off flipping a coin rather than relying on the weather forecast.”

CJ Bar-B-Que and Catering is another business that is thriving in the area without a physical address.

With the motto of “Smokin’ ‘low and slow’, CJ’s Bar-B-Que, has one trailer to cater any event from a picnic, backyard BBQ or wedding to a special event and one trailer that sets up to provide orders to customers who place orders in person. Typically of late, that location has been the parking lot along Foster Brook Boulevard, below Walmart.

Owner Carmen Bleem explained that he and his wife, Johnna, own the business and operate it with the help of their two sons and Bleem’s sister.

The endeavor started out based on requests from people for smoked brisket, pork and chicken. Bleem had developed some idea of what people liked by smoking meat and cooking to feed family members.

“We started out catering. We looked into building an addition onto our house, but it seemed silly to put that much money into a space that we could only use for catering,” Bleem said. “So we started looking into trailers.”

Bleem explained they purchased a trailer in April 2017 and have been providing the area with barbecue and homemade side dishes since then. He explained they typically try to set up the trailer for two days on the weekend.

Bleem explained that in 2018, the business was 50/50 between the catering and walk-up business to the trailer when it was open.

“This summer, the catering has really taken off and we haven’t had time to set up the trailer like we would like to,” he noted.

While it only takes 30 to 45 minutes to set up once the trailer is in place, the prep starts way before that.

“We start the night before. The brisket and pork have to smoke for 10-12 hours,” Bleem said. “Once we bring the (brisket and pork) and have the trailer set up, we still have chicken to put on the smoker and the sides to make.”

He explained that all of the sides are homemade — from the beans and coleslaw to the cheese sauce used in the macaroni and cheese. This is in addition to the work to keep trying new things and providing great barbecue to their customers.

“I have a notebook for the different rubs and BBQ sauces we have tried,” he said. “This one’s too spicy, so we won’t try that again. This one is too sweet…

“We try to keep it consistent.”

Bleem and his wife were born here. Other than four years in the service, he has spent his life in this area and that included working for Cutco for 16 years. However, once the barbecue catering was going well and the trailer was purchased, he thought, “Why am I wasting time at Cutco?”

However, the path to success was not all smooth highway for the business. Bleem explained there weren’t many mobile food businesses in the area when he began. As a result, there were a lot of questions to answer and no one guaranteed to know the right answer.

“We jumped in blind. You can call different places and get different answers (about requirements and licensing),” Bleem said.

Within the city limits, a city license is enough to operate, Bleem learned. Outside of the city limits, however, a Pennsylvania license is needed. That was not something they were aware of initially. Also, they got conflicting answers on whether they were required to have a CDL to haul the trailer and whether it would require a DOT number or not.

However, thanks to the Department of Agriculture representative in Meadville, the bumps got ironed out and the business has been able to continue serving the area.