Creating a mobile food unit on a `toon

Published online: Sep 27, 2013 Feature Katie Burke
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When Travis Martin was little, he always wondered why there was no food when he was hanging around the docks at Willamette River in Oregon. Flash forward a few years and assume time travel possible, Travis could tell his younger self that he solved the problem with a fresh, innovative idea. 

"I have been thinking about doing something different for a few years," says Travis. "We are so fortunate to have the river in our backyard and from my own experience I know you get hungry when you hangout there."

His wife Shelley agrees, "Being boaters ourselves we knew what it was like to be sitting on the water hungry with no food in sight."

Getting Started

Last spring, Travis and Shelley decided to start their own business and put their long pondered idea into action. The goal? Find a pontoon that could be converted into a mobile food unit.

"I spent eight hours a day for the three weeks going over Craigslist for a pontoon," says Travis. "I ran across an estate sale that had a `99 Sweetwater available, but it was a silent auction. So I put in a bid and a week later I found out I won."

Once he got his hands on the 18-foot Sweetwater, Travis got right to work bringing the boat up to restaurant code. He had never owned a pontoon before but was able to figure out the electrical needs and convert it himself. After that, he only had to make small changes to meet the regulations required by the local health department.

"I had to replace the carpet flooring with vinyl," says Travis. "Other than that, not too much work had to go into it because it's a fantastic boat. It handles extremely well and creates a smooth ride."

Unfortunately Travis had to remove everything that was in the boat like the seats and table to make room for the grill, freezer and refrigerator.

"I really liked the layout of my Sweetwater before the remodel. It had plenty of storage and enough room for 10 people to relax out on the water," says Travis. "But business is business."

On The Water

Once he had the legal stamp of approval, Travis hit the Willamette with his floating eatery, fondly named The Burger Barge. The Willamette River is a major tributary of the Columbia River and is located entirely in northwestern Oregon. Travis cruises up and down the river, stopping for people who wave him down. After taking their order, he cooks the food up fresh while people continue their fun on the water.

"I usually start my day by heading a mile up river from the dock to a sandy beach, that's a very popular hangout," explains Travis. "From there, I cruise up and down the river and just pull right up to customers' boats."

The Menu

The dock can become congested as people wait for their turn to use the ramp. Travis helps out by cooking for people as they wait. He has created his menu to be perfect boating food; good for a meal or a snack. His repertoire consists of burgers, sandwiches, hotdogs, chips, ice cream, popsicles and drinks.

"My most popular menu item is usually the bacon burger," says Travis. "But I have some days where I make a ton of grilled cheese sandwiches. It depends on the crowd."

But it doesn't stop there. Travis stocks other necessities that can be easily forgotten such as bags of ice, fish bait, sunscreen, towels and sun glasses.

The Perfect Job

An entrepreneur at heart, Travis works hard to make sure he's available during the busy boating times. He works seven days a week

"I work from 3 p.m. on during the week and 10 hour days on the weekend," says Travis.

This schedule allows him to be home during the day with his 15-month-old daughter, Haylie, while Shelley goes to work.

"My friends are all jealous," says Travis. "They think I have the perfect setup."

As most small business owners know, any endeavor is a family endeavor. Shelley has supported her husband every step of the way.

"Travis always has good ideas," says Shelley. "He saw a need and he filled it. He has proven his success by the non-stop flow of customers each day."

Community Support

The Newberg community has supported the Martins' whole heartedly. People recognize Travis as he drives his `toon to the river.

"People recognize the boat now too," says Travis. "They wave and give me a thumbs up as I drive by."

The Martin's have regular customers that take pride in supporting a local family.

"We usually visit The Burger Barge twice a day both weekend days," says loyal customer Mallary Crull. "We eat hotdogs or hamburgers for lunch and then call him back over later in the day for ice cream or ice."

Plus the Crull family recognizes that Travis makes their day of boating much easier even before they see him for the first time.

"We always go out with other people and there are always ton of kids," adds Crull. "Instead of packing up the grill, food and all the supplies needed, we take advantage of The Burger Barge. It saves room on the boat, plus the food is cooked fresh and it's good every time."

Travis even takes care of the canine companions, including the Crull's Norwegian Elkhound dog, Ruger.

"He made the mistake of giving him a small bite of cheese one of the first times we ate there," recalls Crull. "Now Ruger's obsessed with The Burger Barge and sits at the front of the boat waiting for Travis to come by so he can eat too."

The Burger Barge has exceeded the expectations of the Martins.

"It's gone really, really well," says Travis. "I have been overwhelmed by the support I have received, but it's been awesome."

For now, Travis and Shelley plan on staying in Oregon with the possibly of trying out new markets during the winter months.

"We have family in Arizona so who knows?" says Travis. "We'll feel it out when the time comes."

But one thing is for sure. If you are near the Willamette River in Oregon, you can't go wrong by eating at The Burger Barge.

You can find Travis Martin on Facebook by sending a friend request to Burger Barge Newberg Oregon

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