A few months back, we were turned onto news that Burgerville was opening up a food truck in Portland’s Northwest neighborhood. If you’re not already familiar, Burgerville is a local food-chain favorite that is known for their delicious assortment of burgers, fries, and shakes. From never frozen, cattle raised beef to seasonal produce and cage-free eggs – all of their menu items are fresh, local, and sustainable.
So, when the news broke that interior designer, Max Humphrey and co-founder of The Nightwood Society, Michelle Batista were teaming up on a Burgerville food truck, we were excited for a number of reasons. First, there’s the fact that we’ve been long-time fans of Max’s work. Second, with over 20 years of food and design experience under her belt, we knew whatever menu items Michelle came up with would be mind-blowingly delicious. And finally, Burgerville B-Side was set to open just a few short blocks away from our very own Portland factory and headquarters. A true community collaboration, we caught up with Max and Michelle to chat about their background, creative process, and mutual love for Burgerville, Portland, and all things Americana.
Could you share a little bit about your background and what led you to where you are now?
MB: I started my career in footwear and apparel design, then moved into marketing. Many years in, through creative industry connections, I found myself consulting with chefs and restaurateurs. Immediately, it ignited my love for food and wine. Through the lens of design, I was able to solve for the whole dining experience. I’ve now, collectively, been in the food and design industry for 25 years. I am the proprietress of The Nightwood Society, an event space and hub for creative women and makers in Portland. And most recently, I took on the role of Executive Vice President of Brand for Burgerville.
MH: I grew up in New Hampshire and went to college in Boston. From there, I moved to Los Angeles and worked in TV and Film Production. Taking a unique turn, I went on to tour the U.S. and England as the bass player in a punk rock band signed to a major record label. Years later, I discovered an interest in interior design and determined a career change was in order. I spent the next 10 years in LA designing homes all over the U.S.A., and in 2016 I moved to Portland to launch my own design firm.
How did you guys connect on this project?
MH: Good old-fashioned Instagram trolling!
MB: Max and I have a similar approach to design. We both love nostalgia, Americana, local sourcing, and community, which is really what Burgerville is about. So, to provide some backstory, Burgerville’s food cart idea came up suddenly while I was in the middle of Feast Portland (google it). Burgerville sponsored Feast for the first time this year, and as we were kicking off, I was told that we bought a food cart and wanted to open it within one month. After some negotiating, we decided on two months, and we launched on November 1st. So essentially, I had five weeks to make the cart happen. The day after Feast, I was sitting in the back table at Schoolhouse with my business partner Kati and said, “I’ve got to design this food truck. But I’m so wrecked from Feast. How am I going to make this amazing? I could really use some help, and I need someone who understands interiors.” I picked up my phone, and went to Burgerville’s Instagram account, and saw that Max had tagged Burgerville in his story. I started laughing and said to Kati, “This guy Max always tags Burgerville. He cracks me up. He’s the number one Burgerville fan.” So, I reposted.
MH: I’d eat lunch at Burgerville, and make Instagram stories while I was there and tag them. I would get so excited every time they would repost. I did an interview, and when they asked me what my proudest moment as a designer was, I said, “When Burgerville reposted my Instagram story." Dreams do come true!
MB: And the best part is, that he reposts the repost with much fanfare! I went to his account and vetted his work. I liked it a lot, and well, "community vibes" is our whole jam. So, I said, “Kati, what if I DM him and see if he wants to help design this food cart with me?” And that my friends, is how Max Humphrey and I became Burger Buddies (for life).
What prompted Burgerville to open up a food cart?
MB: Burgerville is Community Built. We wanted to open up a food cart in Northwest to serve the businesses and people in the neighborhood. There aren’t many food options in the area, and we didn’t have a location on the west-side of Portland proper. We also like what’s happening in Slabtown and wanted to expand on that.
How did you come up with the text “You’re my Favorite” on the food truck?
MB: Max came up with the saying, “You’re my favorite” right out the gate. But, it was based on an existing Burgerville hashtag, which was #findyourfavorite.
MH: We wanted it to be based off of Burgerville’s existing campaign. The message is broad – it can be about the food itself or about who you’re there with. We envisioned people taking a photo in front of it with a burger or with a friend. It’s a “feel good” saying and can apply to many things.
MB: We also have an #orewashigonian hashtag painted on the side of the truck. It’s based on our foundational brand campaign, which talks about our local supply chain. Our buns for our B-side menu, for example, are from Grand Central Bakery, which is just down the street from the truck. (Thank you, Kate Sokoloff, for that one)
What did the design process look like from start to finish?
MB: I wrote a brief and started pulling a mood board together. From there, Max started conceptualizing. We had a shared google doc that we continued to build on. In the brief, I asked, “If Burgerville had a dollhouse, what would it look like?”
MH: Commercial projects are usually really different from residential projects because it takes a lot of back and forth to stay on brand. There are a few decisions that we made with the icons on the truck that I really dig - like not personifying the hamburgers – no giving them eyes and noses. The food truck has a limited menu, and we wanted to represent that in the graphics.
MB: The design is nostalgic but modern, and we wanted to represent that. Burgers, fries, and shakes are classic diner menu items, but we gave it a modern spin. We serve shakes, but they are our Bliss Shakes™, which are vegan and made from coconut milk. We have one amazing burger, The No. 6, which is grass-fed and grass-finished. It’s our BEST burger that tackles regenerative agriculture and regional restoration which is no small feat (You can read all about it on our website) We also have a delicious vegetarian burger option - The BBF (Bean Burger Forever).
MH: I also approached it as I would if I were a customer. Like if I’m in a food cart pod, then I’m going to go to the cutest truck no matter what the food is like. Aesthetics drive all my decision-making.
MB: Max also approaches design projects in a way that fits in with Burgerville’s local-first mentality.
MH: I use local resources, makers, and vendors that I believe in. That’s one of the main reasons why Schoolhouse is my go-to.
The exterior of the truck is amazing! Could you tell us more about the design and who painted it?
MB: Max and I worked on the graphics together and gave a brief to Josh Martell, who hand-painted the illustrations on the truck.
MH: Paige, who actually does the Schoolhouse chalkboards, hand-painted the menu board and cafe tables. She also designed the typography.
What were some of the challenges and highlights in designing the truck?
MB: The biggest challenge was timing. We only had five weeks to design and execute on this food truck, and we had no leeway with our opening day.
MH: But everyone was great to work with and pushed through. Jess and Josh from The Trade Team at Schoolhouse, really helped us out since we ordered a batch of fixtures that had a lead time. I remember running into Josh at Schoolhouse, and he told me, “We'll make this happen,” and the Schoolhouse team came through. Interior design is a service industry, so I really appreciate vendors that have awesome customer service.
MB: As for highlights, I love that we decided to have the truck hand-painted. A lot of people were pushing to wrap the truck, but we wanted the artistic process to be very collaborative. With Josh painting right in front of us, we had a lot more creative control. We also wanted to support a local artist.
MH: For me, it was great that Burgerville’s brand colors – red, white, and blue – are my favorite colors. The Schoolhouse Utility Stools, already come in the Burgerville colors, so that was a no-brainer. The truck feels like a very natural collaboration between my design style, Burgerville, and Schoolhouse.
Finally, do you have any other collaborations planned? Future projects you’d like to share?
MB: A Burgerville product line. So, stay tuned.
Photography by Kaitlin M. Green