A Minot man has been giving Minot a little taste of Philadelphia for years, and now he's hitting the road to bring his signature sandwiches to the masses.
Trent Eskelson opened The Cheesesteak Factory in June 2009 inside the Cenex at 1000 N. Broadway. It features a wide range of Philly cheesesteaks such as the Classic Philly, Texas Cheesesteak, Veggie Philly, Taco Philly and Pizza Philly. He also serves Philly-style burgers as well as sides like onion rings, cheese curds, mozz sticks and fried pickles.
For those looking for a little dessert after such a filling meal, Eskelson also offers several varieties of hard-scoop ice cream.
Dan Feldner/MDN • Trent Eskelson calls out a completed order for a customer at The Cheesesteak Factory inside the Cenex on North Broadway Thursday. Eskelson has recently expanded the business by adding a food truck that serves ice cream and the restaurant’s many varieties of cheesesteak.
Submitted Photo • The Cheesesteak Factory will come to its customers in the form is this converted step van, and serves ice cream in addition to cheesesteaks.
Dan Feldner/MDN • Trent Eskelson, owner of The Cheesesteak Factory, shows a freshly made Classic Philly cheesesteak Thursday afternoon. The Classic Philly is one of the most popular items on the menu.
His most popular item is predictably the Classic Philly cheesesteak, which can be made plain or with a variety of toppings. Cheese curds are also extremely popular, and come in regular flavor as well as jalapeno. The Chicken Bacon Ranch Philly also pulls in more than a few customers.
"Actually a lot of the chicken sandwiches people like. I sell them a ton," Eskelson said. "I ran out of chicken (Wednesday). It's a big seller."
Eskelson has been in the food industry for a while. He has always liked the idea of owning his own restaurant, so he started out small a few years back with a food trailer just to dip his toes in the water. He went on to start Chunky's, a small burger joint next to Corbett Field and across from Roosevelt Park Zoo on Burdick Expressway.
The Cheesesteak Factory is located inside the Cenex at 1000 N. Broadway, across from Minot State University. The phone number is 852-7885. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Sunday. The restaurant also has a food and ice cream truck that operates after 8 p.m. Check The Cheesesteak Factory's page on Facebook to see which locations the truck will be at.
He got burned out after a while at Chunky's and went on to do other things. Eskelson said the first time around he hadn't realized how many hours he would need to put in to keep his business going, and the long days eventually got the better of him.
"I did always want to own my own (business), not realizing the difficulties and how many hours you put in," Eskelson said. "People's thinking on opening their own business is that they're instantly rich and that they never work. It's not true. I'm here pretty much every day all day."
Eskelson has one employee to help with the always-frantic lunch rush, but other than that it's just him.
"Lunch is amazingly busy," he said. "And then in the afternoon and at night it fluctuates."
The idea of owning his own restaurant never completely left his mind, however, which is how The Cheesesteak Factory was born.
"That place (Chunky's) was just burgers and fries and that type of thing, and I started doing the cheesesteaks," Eskelson said. "They were nice and easy. I liked making them and people loved them. Things just kind of went from there."
Although many of his customers place their orders to-go, Eskelson said there's seating for about 20 if they choose to have a more leisurely meal.
Business has been great for Eskelson, and he recently expanded The Cheesesteak Factory. He couldn't afford to open a second location, so a little creative thinking led him to buy a step van and build his own food truck from the ground up with the help of a friend.
"Initially I wanted to do an ice cream truck so it's set up to be an ice cream truck. And then I put my grill and table in there so I could do sandwiches," Eskelson said. "It's been working out all right."
Eskelson does area events and festivals and would also like to expand into corporate picnics and birthdays.
"I pretty much will go anywhere if I have the time to do it," Eskelson said.
He generally goes out with the truck for a few hours after closing the store at 8 p.m. Eskelson said it's more of a treat for his customers than a regular occurrence, so he doesn't have anyone driving the truck full-time as of yet.
He even plays music when he drives around, and said the response from the public has been far more enthusiastic than he could have possibly imagined.
"You see an ice cream truck in the movies and kids come running and you think, yeah right. It's true. The tunes are loud enough that you can hear them from a block away and it's just a sight," Eskelson said. "They'll come out of everywhere and everyone's happy. Older people dancing in their driveways for the ice cream man. It's crazy."
To inject a little fun and competitive spirit into the place, Eskelson has a food challenge that's a pretty tall order for all but the most ravenous of eaters. Contestants have 30 minutes to eat a 24-inch sub fully loaded with vegetables and cheesesteak, one pound of fries and a 44-ounce soda. To date, only two people have conquered it.
"It can be done," Eskelson said with a smile.
If they actually eat everything within the time limit, winners get a commemorative T-shirt, hat and the pride that comes with a job well done.
Other than a few radio advertisements, Eskelson relies on word of mouth to promote his business, and that has worked extremely well for him. He also offers gift cards for a quick and easy present idea.
Eskelson has loved owning his own business the second time around, and said the Cenex store has been a great partner to work with. He is even looking for investors to help him expand with a second store, perhaps in a strip mall somewhere to give his locations a little diversity.
While he was burned out by Chunky's, Eskelson said that experience opened his eyes to what it takes to own his own business. This time around, he was more prepared to take on the many challenges every small business owner faces, and he couldn't be happier with his decision to give it a second go.
"I just realized that this is what it is, and if I want to be in the business and succeed that's what I have to do," Eskelson said.