Solbird to open in October

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The end of food truck season is nigh, but come fall, one local favorite will have a new space to serve without the wheels.

Jerry Perez, owner of the Sol Kitchen food truck, has partnered with Ben Thompson, owner of Birdboy Brewing Co., to open a new restaurant and bar on Dupont and Lima roads, in the former Friends location. The new business is called Solbird Kitchen and Tap.

“We’ve kept our identities and we are teaming up my food with his beer,” Perez said.

The two business owners made the announcement just over a year ago. On Aug. 28, they reminded residents that the plan is still in action during a preview event at teds market. Guests were treated to some new brews and a sampling of what Perez described as a “diverse, Latin-inspired menu.”

“We’re going to keep some of the tried-and-true things because we’ve built consistency in the product, and there’s certain things that we’re known for, so we’ll keep our signature dishes,” he said. “But we’re also going to come out with some new and exciting items and also keep working at always adding something new to the menu. It’s a work in progress, we just have to get into our kitchen and get acclimated.”

Sol Kitchen takes its name from the Doors’ 1967 hit of the same name, but with a Latin flair in the spelling to reflect the truck’s food offerings, which include tacos, quesadillas, tostados and other menu items.

Perez and Thompson were introduced last September by a mutual friend, Hetty Arts, owner of another food truck, Hetty Arts Pastry, Perez said. When the pair decided to form a partnership, the original plan was to open the new brick-and-mortar location around the same time Birdboy opened its taproom in Roanoke in late December.

“The plan was to open both of them at the same time, but things just moved faster in Huntington County,” Thompson said during last week’s preview event. “But we’re out here to remind people that (the new location) is still happening.”

Birdboy was founded in 2015 in Fort Wayne, and its name is an homage to Arthur “Birdboy” Smith, a Fort Wayne native who designed and built his own airplane in the early 1900s. Solbird won’t be Thompson’s first collaboration with a local kitchen, as all the food at his Roanoke taproom is provided by Joseph Decuis.

Perez and Thompson said they plan to open the new restaurant and bar at the beginning of October when food truck season slows down.

The two business owners have already laid concrete for the bar and completed some other work on the new space, but there are still “lots of details to finish,” Perez said, adding that he believes they will still be right on schedule. “The new signs and all of the artwork are coming. Everything is coming together fast now, so next month we’ll be able to set up shop.”

In addition to food and beer, Solbird will offer a wine list. Perez and Thompson plan to keep the restaurant and bar open six days a week with brunch on Sunday — an extension of Sol Kitchen’s brunch offerings on Saturdays at the Barr Street Farmers Market in Fort Wayne, which Perez said he plans to continue with the food truck. The Sol Kitchen truck will also continue to operate at some of its other local spots, including Two EE’s Winery, Country Heritage Winery, teds market and Lunch on the Plaza.

Perez said he took some inspiration from teds’ “neighborhood focus” when looking at a location for a restaurant.

“We feel strongly about this side of town, and my wife and I live out this way,” Perez said. “With the popularity at teds on Thursday nights, we felt the market was strong and we could be a neighborhood kind of place. It’s a nice, small building and it’s manageable, but the neighborhood is the most important thing.”

He also sees the move from a food truck to a brick-and-mortar location as “following in the footsteps of Bravas and Affine” — food trucks that spawned Bravas Specialty Burgers on Fairfield Avenue and Junk Ditch Brewing Co. on West Main Street, respectively. When he started his first taco cart in 2012 and rolled out the food truck in 2013, Perez said he was looking at a five-year plan to start up a restaurant, which puts Solbird’s opening right on his schedule.

“Most food trucks have that restaurant in mind when they start, so we’re excited to be doing it,” he said.