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Bear City Social gets the freshest ingredients from the ground onto your picnic table 

You've heard of farm-to-table cooking, but how about farm-to-street?

It's Shaun Behrens' philosophy as a chef: He uses the freshest, most in-season ingredients to craft his menu, and then he takes it to the street in his custom-built, teal blue trailer. He calls it Bear City Social, a nod to the sleepy (but culinarily poppin') town of Los Osos.

"It's always been within my soul and the root of my cooking to grab something out of the ground and put it on a plate," said Behrens, who has made his mark on the SLO County restaurant scene over the past decade and half, cooking for restaurants like Robin's and Luna Red—a family business that emphasizes supporting local.

click to enlarge ROLLING AROUND TOWN You can't miss Bear City Social's bright blue trailer when owner Shaun Behrens drives it around town. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BEAR CITY SOCIAL
  • Photo Courtesy Of Bear City Social
  • ROLLING AROUND TOWN You can't miss Bear City Social's bright blue trailer when owner Shaun Behrens drives it around town.

"The family [that owns] Novo, Luna Red, Robin's does a really good job at still endorsing five farmers' markets a week and doing their part to put money back in the community," Behrens said.

In 2017, Behrens moved to Los Osos to help start up a new restaurant, Blue Heron.

"It was something that was a good departure for me, because I had been working in Downtown SLO for 10 years," Behrens said. "It was one of those things that was kind of a turning point in my life. I got to ride my bike to work every day, and kind of got back to the grassroots of cooking, and the farm-to-table aspect."

Two years later, Behrens found himself back at Luna Red, the place that he calls his restaurant family. But then, COVID-19 hit.

"This time last year was when we went through that second state order, so we were all shut down again," Behrens said. "The second time really hurt all of us."

Behrens realized it was now or never to make a risky but exciting life change: He decided to get a custom food trailer built and start his own business. It took months to complete and get approved by the county, but in the meantime, Behrens and his family did everything they could to keep the dream alive.

click to enlarge WARM YOUR BELLY For those cold SLO winter nights, try some Bear City Social soup. This Mexican fish stew goes great with a beer, owner Shaun Behrens said. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BEAR CITY SOCIAL
  • Photo Courtesy Of Bear City Social
  • WARM YOUR BELLY For those cold SLO winter nights, try some Bear City Social soup. This Mexican fish stew goes great with a beer, owner Shaun Behrens said.

"I didn't know what we were going to do, so we started doing as many little things as we could to generate money for our income," Behrens said. "We baked pies from our house and sold them to the little pub down the street. I took little private cheffing gigs and helped out friends for an hourly rate, and did some consulting."

Behrens' trailer was finished in October 2021, and now he's taking things slow to get his business rolling (pun intended) exactly how he wants it.

"We have been pumping the brakes a little bit, and working on business planning, the concept of what we want to be. Trying some things, but not putting myself out there too much," Behrens said. "I can say, in the last 10 months, it's been a learning experience and a roller coaster. I don't think I could have done it any differently."

But that doesn't mean you won't find Bear City Social around town serving up delicious food. In addition to being available to book for weddings and other private events, Behrens posts up at Liquid Gravity every weekend to do what he does best: crafting a menu of what he calls, "social foods." It's why Behrens loves serving the brewery setting.

"The basis of this concept is social foods. So having an event that is primed to be social, we're super into it," Behrens said. "The partnership with me and [Liquid Gravity owners] Brendan and Celeste goes back years. We used to be neighbors in downtown SLO. ... When we knew that we were going to have a mobile kitchen, and they have a brewery. They had an opening late in the year, and I jumped on it."

Behrens defines social foods as "anything you can kinda grab with your hands."

"It can be sushi, Ethiopian food," Behrens said. "Those are all social foods. Not necessarily that you're going to put it in the middle of the table and share it like a pizza, but it's having a gathering of people, sitting on a picnic table, and eating together."

The nature of food trucks—always changing both locations and menus—goes hand in hand with this concept, Behrens said.

While his menu changes often based on what's in season, he talked about some of the fan favorites he's concocted in the past few months.

click to enlarge FARM TO STREET A past Bear City Social menu shows the different types of cuisine that chef Shaun Behrens brings to the street, from tacos to chowder. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BEAR CITY SOCIAL
  • Photo Courtesy Of Bear City Social
  • FARM TO STREET A past Bear City Social menu shows the different types of cuisine that chef Shaun Behrens brings to the street, from tacos to chowder.

"We've done tacos where we make our own tortillas," Behrens said. "We do lamb barbacoa, or we do a vegan cauliflower mole taco."

Head to @bearcitysocial on Instagram to see what a typical menu for the food trailer looks like.

This year, Behrens said he's looking forward to incorporating more local produce, grains, fish, and meats into his menus. His rich history in the local food scene allows Behrens to source from local vendors and farmers.

"The idea behind it all is to just kind of be very fluid. Everything is scratch made or purchased from local artisans, like Back Porch Bakery, or Grover Beach Sourdough, or the farmers' markets. I just got off the phone with a new mushroom grower in town," Behrens said.

"Although we're not necessarily encouraged to be social right now or over the last year, as we come out of this, this is born from being able to share food again in the middle of the table." Δ

Staff Writer Malea Martin will be at Liquid Gravity this Saturday enjoying some Bear City Social tacos. Reach her at mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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