ELLSWORTH — Stanley Grindle has worked the line for years. You may recognize him from his many years cooking at the Union River Lobster Pot or Finn’s Irish Pub, if you happened to peek into the kitchen. But Grindle always felt like he wanted something more: something with four wheels and an even tighter cooking space.
“I’ve always wanted to do a food truck,” said the chef, leaning against the counter inside Wing Dingahs on a toasty June day. The truck was parked outside of Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School, where Grindle was feeding the hungry crowds who had come to hear the bands on R.B. Hall Day.
Grindle bought the truck several years ago and began outfitting it for what he wanted to be his niche: that most beloved-barbecue staple, wings. He hung a yellow sign with a cheeky cartoon chicken and a phone number on the side and named it Wing Dingahs, spelled with the “ah,” because “you have to have that Maine Downeast accent,” he said.
Not everyone in the family was initially as enthusiastic about this particular dream, said Grindle. The chef’s wife, Heidi-Noel Grindle, works as the clerk for the city of Ellsworth, and the couple were busy with a son, Devin, who plays baseball and was getting ready to graduate from Ellsworth High School.
But, as Grindle tells it, one day they decided to give it a try.
“We were talking about it, we were arguing about it then we stopped arguing and I bought a truck,” Grindle said.
It quickly became a family affair. Both Heidi and her mother, June Atherton, now get behind the line to help out, and it can get a little cozy.
“I’m used to the tight space because of Finn’s,” said Grindle. “We’re shoulder to shoulder basically. This is very homey to me.”
“The grill and I have become very good friends,” joked Atherton.
Grindle said he enjoys the fast pace and pressure of working in a kitchen. “I like the stress level,” he said. “Heidi doesn’t like it though,” he said, as his wife nodded, handing a steaming hot dog through the window.
Grindle has branched out from wings to include hot dogs, burgers and tater tots, a nod to his co-worker. “They’re Heidi’s favorite. Try to please the wife a little bit.”
He’s also been experimenting with sauces, trying out unusual flavors such as an Allen’s Coffee Brandy barbecue sauce. “It’s kind of sweet but at the end you have that nice coffee flavor,” he said.
This is Grindle’s first entrepreneurial venture and he said it’s opened his eyes to the complications of being a small business owner.
“There have been lots of learning curves,” he said, such as figuring out how much to order, determining what will sell and dealing with broken equipment.
“There’s a lot of discouragement coming in with a business,” said Grindle. “Maintenance — I never gave it a thought.” Working for someone else, he wondered why an owner didn’t immediately fix something that broke.
There’s also the difficulty of accommodating customer requests, said Heidi. Wing Dingahs tried serving certain soups and chilis in the colder months, she said, in response to a couple of customers’ requests. But they had trouble moving enough to justify the cost.
“What makes sense for one person doesn’t make sense for a business,” said Noel-Grindle.
Grindle said he has a better sense of the priorities of a small business owner and how tight money can be. “It gives you a lot of awareness of what needs to happen,” he said.
“You just find things that will work.”
And any way, he’s having fun.
“I’m having such a great time with it. That’s what I was looking for. Trying to make something of my own work.”
To find out where you can get your wings fix, visit Wing Dingahs on Facebook by searching “Wing Dingahs” or call 812-4006.