Tom Sobocinski comes from a close knit foodie family who love to eat and work hard. Growing up, Tom started at an early age helping his grandmother cook in the kitchen. His brother, Jason, also had it in his blood. After graduating from Providence College, Jason continued to pursue his culinary dreams by attending Boston University for his MFA in Gastronomy, working nights at Formaggio Kitchen where he got the “Cheese Bug”. Jason returned to his grass roots in New Haven and opened Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro. While Tom was finishing his Sophmore year at Boston University he decided to help his brother at Caseus. Tom loved working with his brother and decided to take some time off school to help his brother grow the business. Tom was always an entrepreneur and fortunately, he was able to combine his passion for business with his love of family.
Tom took time out of his busy schedule to share his stories about life at Fairfield University, The Cheese Truck and his latest venture, Black Hog Brewing.
You were studying at Boston University. How did you end up at Fairfield University and operating The Cheese Truck?
I took the summer after Sophomore year at Boston University to help my brother, Jason, with his new business, Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro, and I loved every minute of it. We started talking about operating a food truck and this was back in 2009 when food trucks were still in their infancy. Jason was the founder and owner of Caseus and he really encouraged me to take on a project of my own so I would have a vested interest in the business. I knew I wanted to complete my undergraduate degree but I also wanted get a head start on my next adventure, The Cheese Truck. Here is where my parents come into play. Both my parents are Fairfield University alumni and my Dad was an adjunct professor at Fairfield. I decided to attend Fairfield as I liked the small class size and I really liked the professors. At Fairfield, I took classes I wanted to take that were interesting and meaningful to the business versus just classes for credit. I was able to work with the professors using my business as my independent project all of which counted as credit. I loved my time at Fairfield and the opportunities it offered me and still does offer me. Fairfield University has been extremely supportive of our business both on the cheese side and now on the brewery side. In fact, one of our investors in Black Hog Brewing is a Fairfield alum.
The food truck craze started around 2008 in LA but dates back to a Rhode Island vendor, Walter Scott, in 1872 who sold sandwiches, pies and coffee outside of a newspaper office in Providence. How has the food truck business grown or changed in the last couple of years?
When we first started in 2009, the food truck business was just starting to take off and we were one of the first around Yale University. There is a lot of paperwork to complete for the town from a licensing and permitting perspective but I worked a great deal with the town of New Haven to develop policies which are now in place and you see many more speciality food trucks roaming the streets of New Haven. At our inception, in theory Jason and I thought The Cheese Truck, would be a means to advertise and market the restaurant, Caseus and we would offer a lower price for our sandwiches to students who may not be able to afford coming into the restaurant. However, The Cheese Truck, has been a very successful and profitable business. We have only one truck but 2 full time year round employees who have been with us for 5 years. We have a solid customer base and we now offer event based opportunities such as weddings, business events, or private parties.
How has your business grown overall and what new projects are you working on?
Two years after The Cheese Truck took off, we opened a cocktail bar, Ordinary, named after the original beer tavern dating back to the late 1600’s. For the last two years, we have been focused on growing our brewery, Black Hog Brewing Co.
We are now distributing the beer in Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Maine and Connecticut. A good family friend of ours who was interested in homebrewing asked if we wanted to start a get involved in operating a microbrewery. I didn’t want to brew beer but I did want to get involved in the business aspect of a microbrewery. As luck would have it, a local brewery was on the market and we bought it.
How is the brewery business going?
We won a Gold medal in the American Brown Ale Category at the World Beer Cup last May for our Granola Brown Ale. This is a huge honor and I think a great achievement considering we were less than 2 years old at the time.
What recommendations do you have for someone starting their own business?
Do what you love and what you are passionate about and if you are lucky enough to have family to share your interests you have the perfect combination. I am fortunate to have such a wonderful, hard working, and fun family to work with. Besides my brother and parents, I have a fiancé who is extremely supportive and helps me at all the events. It truly is a team effort. Lastly, it is never too late to start something new. My Mom, Sylvia, at forty started a new career. She also manages our cheese shop. Life is short so take advantage of everything you can as it goes by fast.
What is your favorite grilled cheese combo?
Grilled Cheese with bacon and red cherry peppers. The peppers add a nice kick to the sandwich and I might throw in a little guacamole.
What is your favorite dessert at Caseus?
The chocolate pot de crème…it is rich enough to share or just indulge in alone.
Photos courtesy of Tom Sobocinski
On a side note from Moira McCullough of Sweet Travels…I grew up outside of New Haven and my parents still reside there. I have always enjoyed dining at Caseus whenever we are back in town visiting family. It is my parents’ favorite neighborhood restaurant. On my last visit, I ordered Poutine with a fried Koan Farm Egg which was devoured by the table (I should have ordered my own!), the Gnocchi with Nettle Pesto, bread and butter (ask for the butter of the day which is always a treat), and finished off dinner with a chocolate pot de crème. Next on my list will be Tom’s favorite grilled cheese sandwich. What is not to like about bacon and guacamole? A fall visit to the newly opened tasting room at Black Hog Brewing is in store for Sweet Travels too! Check out their cookbook in the cheese shop or online @ https://www.amazon.com/Caseus-Fromagerie-Bistro-Cookbook-Cheese/dp/0762761180