If you had asked Stephen Kina a year ago what he would be doing right now, running a barbecue food truck was probably not going to have been his answer. Running a successful pop-up barbecue restaurant would definitely have not been his answer. But in the spring of 2022, that is exactly where Kina finds himself running 406 BBQ, a successful food truck and now a soon-to-be pop-up restaurant in Columbia Falls.
“It has been a crazy journey and it has only been six months,” Kina said recently while cutting into a big thick slab of brisket at the Ghostland Grounds kitchen in Columbia Falls.
A year ago, Kina, 33, was doing taxes for wealthy clients. It was a job that paid well but wasn’t one that he was particularly excited about. Kina, who is originally from Hawaii and did a stint in the military, enjoyed cooking though and had always dreamed of opening a food truck. But when talking to Kina, you get the idea that it wasn’t a dream set in stone; it was an idea, the type of idea we all daydream about but probably never would act on. Of course, the idea of starting a food truck didn’t just appear out of the ether. Kina’s dad is a successful chief, so he knew what it took to run a kitchen. (Interestingly, he said his mom always tried to discourage him from getting into cooking because she knew just how time-consuming such a career would be).
In 2021, Kina found himself thinking about that dream more and more. At about the same time, he was also getting into barbecue. When he was in the military, he was briefly stationed in Texas and fell in love with that state’s smokey, salty, peppery style of barbecue. Especially the brisket, which comes from the chest of the cow. Using some recipes he found online, he tried to recreate the taste he fell in love with about a decade earlier in Texas and had some good results. His friends and family loved it even more and told him he should start selling it to the masses — perhaps unknowingly pushing him to take that leap of faith and open the food truck he always daydreamed about.
Interestingly though, a barbecue food truck wasn’t what he was daydreaming about. He thought the valley could really use a noodle truck and with his Pacific Island background, maybe he could be the one to deliver it. But then a noodle restaurant opened in Kalispell and that void in the Flathead’s food scene was filled. Not long after that, he decided to open up a barbecue food truck. The day he told his wife that he was doing it was the same day he filed the trademark for 406 BBQ. Then, he got to work.
“It really felt like if I didn’t do it now, I would never do it and that I would regret that for the rest of my life,” he said.
Kina initially thought of just selling sandwiches made with that crowd-pleasing brisket he was getting good at making, but his wife said he should probably diversify that menu. So he started making ribs, huckleberry pork bites, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw and even a few unique items, like bacon-wrapped smoked Oreos with a huckleberry glaze on top. Kina said he saw the Oreos online and thought that he could “make it a little more Montana” with some huckleberries. 406 BBQ’s first event came late last summer and it became an instant hit, with more and more events booked within a few months. He also garnered some attention when he smoked a bacon-wrapped alligator during the Whitefish Christmas Stroll.
But even with attention-grabbing items like alligator and bacon-wrapped smoked Oreos (which this reporter can confirm are pretty darn tasty), it’s that smoked brisket that keeps people coming back. Kina said that he uses salt, pepper and “other spices” (he confirmed that the “other spices” were indeed secret) to cover the meat and then smokes it for 15 hours. It’s usually served with a house-made sauce (also a secret).
Kina said that he had hoped to someday quit his tax preparation job and work the food truck full time. But “someday” came a lot sooner than he expected and he began working 406 BBQ full time in November. He also started talking to Kevin Rosenjack, owner of Ghostland Grounds, a commercial kitchen space and coffee shop in Columbia Falls, about possibly setting up shop there. Like everyone else, Rosenjack was impressed and the two agreed to have Ghostland Grounds host a pop-up restaurant on weekends starting this spring. Kina said he expected to be open on Friday, Saturday and Sundays starting at 11 am and going until they run out of. He said the food will be served like it is in Texas and people will be able to mix and match and create their own entrees. The food truck will also be doing events throughout the summer.
Description: Smoked brisket (by itself or as a sandwich) seasoned with salt, pepper and “other spices.”
Rental: Ghostland Grounds, 700 Ninth Street West, Columbia Falls in the summer or at community events.