MERIDEN — The kitchen attached to the Village Barn has seen a variety of owners over the years, but Matt Dube plans to make his new venture last.
Dube opened Pigs on Wheels in the kitchen at 16 River Road in late October. The 41-year-old’s menu is American comfort food, with different varieties of wings, burgers, and sandwiches.
Some of Dube’s most popular items so far have been the Cuban sandwich, spicy peanut butter bacon wings, and fried potato bombs.
The name — Pigs on Wheels — was “locked in” when Dube first tried to open a food truck. He was finding it difficult to navigate the various Connecticut food truck regulations when the opportunity to open in the Village Barn presented itself.
He still wants to do a food truck, but sees this kitchen as a chance to build up a catering business, which would be run out of the food truck. The truck would be less of a side of the road stop, and more of a for-hire at parties and events.
At the Village Barn, customers can order from a window by the bar, and then sit down with a pager device which lets them know to grab their food back at the window when it's ready.
“It's almost like a food truck,” Dube said jokingly.
He said the fried potato bombs — mashed potato balls, breaded and fried — have been a big hit so far, as well as the maple chipotle and spicy peanut butter bacon wings.
“My favorite thing to do right now is comfort food,” Dube said, pointing to other menu items like grilled cheese, fries, and BBQ pulled pork sandwiches.
When putting together the menu, Dube said making the bar’s regular customers happy was his top priority. He’s been asking customers for feedback and suggestions for weekly specials.
For him, the best part of the job is seeing other people enjoying the food.
“I think it's knowing that you can single-handedly make somebody have a good day, or make someone leave with that feeling that is something only food can (do),” he said.
Dube has always worked in the food industry, starting in restaurants and diners and moving to cruise lines, nursing homes and fraternity houses — all the while washing dishes, cooking, or managing kitchens. He graduated from the former Connecticut Culinary Institute in 1996.
Dube still works full-time managing kitchens for a nursing home. Until the business is more established he’s splitting time between the two jobs, but says he can handle the long hours since he’s back to living his passion: cooking.
“I walk in (the kitchen) even after a bad day and I'm actually happy,” he said.
Village Barn co-owner Pete Daniels said he’s probably seen about seven different owners come through the kitchen over the 17 years that he’s owned it. The longest-running was Charlie’s Pizza, which he guessed closed around nine years ago. After that it was the Red Bridge Grill, and most recently the Hay Loft.
Daniels is optimistic that Dube will be successful, especially since he’s keeping the menu simple and giving the people what they want.
“The best way to make it down there is keep it to bar food,” Daniels said.
Daniels said the bar’s business has picked up since Pigs on Wheels opened, so seeing the kitchen succeed is in the bar’s best interest too. The bar owners have not been interested in renting the kitchen themselves due to lack of time and inexperience with food, Daniels said.
“He's the real deal… I see him there for awhile,” Daniels said. “I think once the word gets around, he’s gonna be a hotspot.”
For now, Pigs on Wheels is open Wednesday and Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m., Friday from 6 to 11 p.m., and Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m. Dube hopes to expand the hours to include lunch, and be open Sundays too. Visit the Pigs on Wheels Facebook page for updates on business hours.