On opening day at the Bistro Box, you can expect long lines of people eager to get their hands on tomato-bacon jam; freshly squeezed lemonade; and crispy, hand-cut truffle fries. Perhaps it’s the exclusivity of their seasonal schedule or maybe because the food is out of this world, but one thing is for sure: Husband and wife owners Nick and Birdie Joseph have built a cult following for their twist on the classic American burger stand at their Great Barrington roadside eatery.
Though Birdie and Nick grew up in the Berkshires, these two Culinary Institute of America graduates didn’t meet until 2008 when working at the Marketplace in Sheffield. They dreamt of branching off to start their own restaurant but envisioned something with low start-up costs, overhead and risk. With a small loan collateralized by Nick’s truck, they packed up and traveled all around New England in a food truck, servicing antique shows, music festivals and fairs. But after four fun years on the road, the couple grew tired of the whole production — traveling every weekend, setting up generators, maintaining a commissary — so, in the spring of 2014, they decided to hit the brakes and park their operation at a little three-season roadside shack on Route 7 South.
The building has seen many tenants over the years but, when Nick and Birdie moved in, they brought a bold new take on shack food that reflects their culinary skills and creativity. To the menu they’ve added the paninis, soups and salads from their days on the road, and have kept the classic burgers and fries, hotdogs and milkshakes—but with some innovative touches. During the off-season when they’re not picking up small catering gigs, Nick and Birdie are strategizing for the coming year. In 2018, Birdie is looking forward to showcasing her baking skills while Nick is planning to introduce to the menu elements from a variety of cuisines.
They say that they are able to be flexible and try out these new projects because of their supportive customer base, incredible staff and the nature of the fast-paced operation. They also cite elements of the business that could use a bit more work. The Bistro Box falls somewhere between fast food and casual dining, meaning they don’t have to bother with dishwashing but the to-go containers really pile up in the garbage. Each year they take steps toward making their business more environmentally friendly. This year, it’s searching for compostable goods that will help them cut down on waste while honoring their culinary creations. For example, Birdie prefers to have their fresh-squeezed lemonade in clear cups so, until they find the best compostable option, they’ll start with small revolutionary changes like paper straws.
They’re faced with other hard decisions as business owners and are still learning how to operate on an appropriate scale that allows them to be creative with their dishes, meet customer demand and get a good night’s sleep. “Everything falls on your shoulders, but you don’t have to answer to anyone: You get to be creative and you get to call the shots,” Birdie said. As for the decision to accept BerkShares at the Bistro Box? That was easy. Birdie and Nick say it’s been a great addition to their business and there’s “nothing to lose.”