Sailors who’ve crossed oceans often commemorate the journey with a sparrow tattoo. Luke Cypher is a landlubber, but he appreciates the symbolism behind the bird.
In 2016, the heavily inked chef launched the Blue Sparrow food truck. He spent nine months transforming an old Duquesne Light vehicle into a mobile kitchen, bringing global street eats to the Steel City.
“Global street food is a fancy way to say, ‘I can do whatever I want.’ I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself into one style of food,” says Cypher, who did his culinary training at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and worked at Piccolo Forno.
Decorated with tattoo-inspired artwork, the Blue Sparrow food truck navigates all around town, but has four regular ports of call: Dancing Gnome in Sharpsburg, Commonplace Coffee on the North Side, Eleventh Hour Brewing in Lawrenceville and Braddock’s Brew Gentlemen.
The consistent schedule has helped Cypher build a loyal customer base. Demand for the grub is so high, in fact, that Blue Sparrow is expanding its fleet to include a vintage Greyhound Bus — and eventually a brick-and-mortar space.
Cypher and his crew gutted this 1956 mass transit vehicle and plan to hit the road with it in the next week. It features three service windows: one is rigged with a full tap system for pouring beer from local breweries, another will serve as a “guest chef” station and Blue Sparrow food will be sold from the third.
The original Detroit diesel engine inside this bus actually gets better gas mileage than Blue Sparrow’s truck.
The bus will make some stops at Blue Sparrow’s home bases. But Cypher says it will mostly be used to feed crowds at festivals, weddings and other large-scale events.
What’s on the menu? Popular Blue Sparrow items include Banh Mi, a Vietnamese pork sandwich on a baguette topped with Sparrow sauce and veggies, and a beef coriander burger on a ramen noodle bun with caramelized onion jam, pickled cabbage and baby bok choy.
But the bus isn’t Blue Sparrow’s only good news.
Once the bus has been around the block a few times, Cypher will focus on the next step: Turning Blue Sparrow’s North Side commissary kitchen into a full-fledged restaurant.
Local tattoo artists are already busy adding their creative touches to the walls, but Cypher says he’ll take his time with the next Blue Sparrow incarnation. He’s aiming for a grand opening in the spring.
“Healthy growth is important, especially with staffing,” he says. “You want to keep the people wanting more, so we don’t want to do too many new things at once.”