It might look simple enough: a guy standing at a cart three or four days a week, when the weather’s nice enough, selling sausages on the side of the road. But for Busta Grill proprietor Adam Colvin, it’s just one part of a unique business model. His food reaches many more people around Louisville on a daily basis, and not just via sausages.
In 2004, Colvin’s sister, Rachel Torres, started Dolce, a wholesale bakery, in what is now known as the NuLu district. She bought the space in what had been a pre-Civil War firehouse to make pastries for high-end restaurants like Lilly’s, Azalea and Artemisia. By 2011, burnt out on the long hours away from her family, Torres was ready to step down.
But Dolce stayed in the family, as her brother — who had worked there part time, washing dishes and making deliveries — took over. Under his direction, Dolce has become more focused on making bread, and today provides such for Proof, Game, Feast BBQ, Please & Thank You, Eiderdown and a dozen other operations. “Some we do a lot for, some just one thing,” Colvin says.
“I thought it was the best-tasting stuff, so I wanted to push the bread,” Colvin continues. “We can’t make a ton of it, because everything is made by hand. So we can only make a certain number per day before we start going crazy.” An average day turns out 800 buns.
In 2011, he also started his sausage cart, originally at a “tough” location at Sixth and Chestnut. Because the Metro government regulates locations, ensuring enough distance from other carts, trucks or restaurants, vendors must submit a wish list of five locations. Colvin didn’t get any from his initial list. When First and Washington became available, he jumped on it.
Back at Dolce, his employees work from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m. The boss typically comes in at 7, preps the cart if it’s a Busta Grill day, helps out in the kitchen, and takes care of all the less glamorous details: purchasing, payroll, accounting, deliveries. The idea of opening a retail space has been dismissed, as it would increase labor and compete against accounts that already buy Dolce’s goods. Plus, that space is needed now for Busta Grill’s carts.
It’s a job filled with long hours, but Dolce is an otherwise relaxed place to work. On a recent morning, head baker Aaron Sortman rolled dough while Colvin experimented with a new recipe as Hall & Oates blasted from a speaker. His father, retired from jobs making bourbon and PBR, comes in daily to “steal some coffee,” as the son jokes.
Busta Grill can be a more intense job. It takes someone with experience feeding hundreds of people in a few hours to be able to handle big crowds. Colvin has that experience — his career in the food industry began with janitorial work at an Old Spaghetti Factory, followed by serving and dishwashing at the Limestone Bay Yacht Club, pantry work at the Louisville Country Club and De La Torre’s, and, at 19, a detour to Key West. There, he worked the grill at the Half Shell Raw Bar in between drinking and carrying on, “living like a pirate,” and learning how to work those big crowds.
After returning home, Colvin, also a musician who has drummed for numerous bands, worked as a pipe organ technician for four years before getting back into the food business, working for Creation Gardens and the Come Back Inn. He went back to school, studying at ITT Tech and then U of L, where he graduated with a philosophy degree. He considered becoming a lawyer, even taking the LSAT, before making the philosophical decision to buy a food cart.
He was inspired by his travels: Panama, Ecuador and Portland, Ore., among others, where carts and trucks inspired a nation and offered “a cheap way to get a gig” without having to answer to anyone else. His plan to sell Indian food was halted by the local government — “no raw meat on the street,” as Colvin summarizes the law. “I didn’t know that, so I had to sell sausages.”
In Ecuador, where Torres’ husband is from, Colvin saw the “outrageous hot dogs” covered with mayonnaise, chimichurri and potato sticks. “I took little bits of that and came up with this goofy idea.” Another goofy, and very American, idea was “Joe Pesci Fridays,” where Busta Grill customers can offer their Pesci impression in exchange for a discount.
Soon, Busta Grill will have a second cart at Fourth and Jefferson, which will mean adjustments to the current operation. Also, Colvin and his wife are expecting their first child. It’s the next chapter in a journey where, as Busta Grill’s sign promises, “Awesome is guaranteed!”