The Dusty Buns restaurant on Weldon Avenue near Fresno High hasn’t been open in weeks, and the food truck hasn’t seen much action recently.
At one point, owners Dustin and Kristen Stewart were running two food trucks and two brick-and-mortar locations – the Weldon restaurant and another in San Francisco.
The couple did not return phone calls or respond to efforts to reach them via social media in recent days, and no one answered the phone at the San Francisco restaurant.
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Records show the couple filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection Dec. 20 with the federal bankruptcy court in Fresno. In their filing, the couple estimate the total value of their assets at $29,175, including vehicles and other personal property.
They’ll be missed, and they left some big shoes to fill.
Jose Aguilar, Casa de Tamales
That contrasts with total liabilities of nearly $900,000, according to the petition. Those include taxes and other government debts of almost $164,000 and student loans amounting to more than $165,000. (Student loans can’t be discharged through bankruptcy.)
Other liabilities are business debts to vendors, including food and beverage suppliers or services.
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy allows for a trustee to gather up a debtor’s property – except for some exempt personal assets – and liquidate it, with the proceeds going to pay creditors.
At the Weldon restaurant, a cryptic poem has been posted on the door, reading in part, “Broke boundaries/7 years all in/Thanks to Crew & Kin/Fresno/San Francisco/Everywhere between/An honor its been/Soon we’ll begin again.”
It’s followed by “grand reopening coming soon,” but no plans have been shared publicly.
The Stewarts made a big splash in 2010 with their vintage 1975 food truck. They are often credited with paving the way for the Fresno scene to graduate from taco trucks to bistro trucks with regular events that attracted big crowds.
They dealt with the city when rules weren’t favorable to trucks and made it easier for other bistro trucks to start in Fresno, says James Caples, owner of food truck and restaurant Benaddiction.
“The industry owes a lot to them,” he said. “They went through a lot of headaches that saved us a lot of headaches.”
They were key players in the events like Cart Hop and Enzo’s Table (formerly Bella Frutta) that brought trucks and trailers together to sell food to the public.
In 2012, they added the restaurant. It was a way for customers to get Dusty Buns food without tracking down the food truck. The kitchen also allowed them to prepare more food to sell on the truck.
They expanded to a second truck and a restaurant in San Francisco.
But the restaurant business is a tough one, even for trucks, Caples said. Costs are constantly rising, including labor, food, rent and power bills.
“The restaurant industry, it’s a very difficult thing to survive in,” he said. “They were so big on the organics and the local (food), and that unfortunately costs money.”
It’s not clear what exactly led to the bankruptcy. The couple – typically open with the public and sharing news of their two daughters’ births – have been uncharacteristically quiet in recent weeks.
According to the bankruptcy filing, both the Stewarts are unemployed and report no current household income. They estimate monthly household expenses for them and their two young children at about $4,300, including $1,600 in rent. The filing states that “living expenses are subsidized by family when there isn’t any income.”
The filing also shows the assets and liabilities of Dusty Buns LLC, in which the Stewarts together hold a two-thirds interest while Gary Christiansen holds the rest. The filing sets the cash value of ownership equity at zero.
The assets of the business include a brick oven, a convection oven and flat-top griddle, several refrigerators and an ice machine, as well as bar stools, tables and benches, and cookware. Dusty Buns’ largest liabilities include a $90,000 bill from Merchant Discount Direct, $77,000 owed to Fresno developer Will Dyck for a business loan, a $40,000 debt to American Express, and claims by the state Board of Equalization, Employment Development Department and others.
But those debts shouldn’t be taken as a sign that food trucks can’t make it in Fresno, said Jose Aguilar of Casa de Tamales, another one of Fresno’s first mobile gourmet businesses.
“They did a great job initially, and they did shine a spotlight on the Valley in terms of gourmet food,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate they had to close down. They’ll be missed, and they left some big shoes to fill.”