Last summer, a new contender for the Twin Cities’ best burger emerged. The catch was that you never quite knew where it would be.
The elusive smash burgers from Private Sector Provisions—a pandemic project from friends Brett Splinter and Josh Clark—were a phenomenon. The pair would announce their pop-ups on Instagram mere days before each one, and only those quick (or online) enough would be able to snag a time slot.
But as of this week, these burgers are slightly easier to track down: Private Sector will be at BlackStack Brewing on Monday nights, from 5 p.m. ’til sellout, for the foreseeable future.
Before it was “The Cult Burger of Summer,” Private Sector Provisions was a podcast. “Just that super traditional American business story,” laughs Splinter, who started The Private Sector Podcast with his lifelong friend in the early stages of the pandemic (“like every other middle-aged white asshole”).
Splinter says it was mostly a way for them to hang out with pals in the food and drink or craft beer industry. But happenstance had other plans.
Splinter bought a Blackstone flattop griddle during the pandemic—checking another one of those middle-aged white guy boxes—and started making smash burgers. Really good smash burgers. When their friends at Falling Knife Brewing had a food truck cancel on them, Splinter and Clark joked that they could step in, and then did step in.
The duo prepped a bunch of patties and headed to the brewery. “This was the sourdough bread, Tiger King phase of the pandemic,” Splinter says, so they decided to give away the food and let people donate to a charity if they chose. People started showing up and flashing their phone screens to show that they’d donated 40 or 50 bucks a burger.
Private Sector started doing pro bono pop-ups at a number of breweries and restaurants, including Arbeiter Brewing, Sea Salt, and Brunson’s Pub. But folks were clamoring for a more consistent way to get the burgers, hence the new ongoing collaboration with BlackStack.
The first installment this week was, admittedly, a bit rocky. “We brought the number of burger patties we’d do in three hours and we sold out in 20 minutes,” Splinter says. The pop up may go from 5 p.m. ’til sellout each week, but the hope was that sellout would be a liiiittle later than that. “Good news, bad news: It’s awesome that there’s that support, but we got our first negative feedback ever.” (Don’t worry: They’ll have more burgers next time around. Live and learn!)
The winter residency is great for folks who like a little consistency, but Splinter says he’s fond of the pop-up nature of things. It’s here, and then it’s gone. The perceived exclusivity adds to the fun. Take Chicago’s iconic Au Cheval burger—“Is it mind-blowing? It’s pretty fucking good!” Splinter says. But the burger is more than the sum of its parts: It’s about knowing you’re going to wait and hour and half, heading next door to drink bourbon, and being patient. “It’s about the pilgrimage.”
Splinter says their Instagram (@privatesectorprovisions) is still the best place to keep in touch. They’ve got more stuff in the works, including another BlackStack collab beer (working name: Beer for Burgers) that’s a bit more sessionable than some of the double and triple IPAs BlackStack is known for. They’ve worked out a great deal: a single or double Private Sector burger and a beer for $12 or $14, “which is, by trendy burger standards, pretty fucking good.”
You’ll be able to find them at BlackStack for the next few… weeks? Months? No one is sure! Splinter says they don’t really have a hard stop date, which is in line with the free-flowing and slightly unpredictable nature that makes this whole thing exciting.
While other folks who find themselves helming a smash-success food truck or pop-up eventually look to move into restaurants, Splinter doesn’t think these burgers will head for a brick-and-mortar space: “I don’t see us ever having a full-on spot of our own.” They might get a trailer, or do other residencies at other breweries and restaurants… but who can say for sure? Not knowing what comes next is all part of the fun.