The Big Friendly
I first encountered The Big Friendly bus in the front yard of our friend Rob’s house. It was a surprise birthday present from his wife, Louise, and the truck cheerfully hummed away into the night sharing its beer cheer. I immediately fell in love with the fun aesthetic and nostalgia of the bus and how it is designed to invite friends to stay awhile.
After meeting with owner Joe Quinlin and learning more about the intentional design and motivation behind The Big Friendly, I am even more enchanted. I was surprised to learn that Joe moved to Oklahoma from California in his adult years because he appreciates the Sooner State in a way that usually only people who were born and brought up here can. He has inserted this affinity in many tangible ways onto his establishment—from the local beer selection to the colors inspired by the state flag. Most of these things are so subtle that I missed them that evening on Rob & Louise’s driveway, but all of the thought that went on behind the scenes to create The Big Friendly gives a warm experience that makes you enjoy it and not even know why. Much like a great beer Joe has literally created a great vehicle for the advancement of Oklahoma craft beer and genuine community in our great state.
Name: Joe Quinlin
Name of your Establishment: The Big Friendly
When did you open the bus door of The Big Friendly? Our first event was October 10, 2015 in Guthrie, at Hoboken Coffee Roasters.
Why beer? I have an ever growing love for both the craft of beer and the community that surrounds it. I love the creativity and thought that goes into every recipe. There are endless combinations of malt, yeast, hops, and special ingredients to form the most enjoyable flavors. The community of beer is very kind and generous, and it is a blessing to be part of it.
What is your favorite beer? From a stylistic standpoint, my favorite beers to drink and brew are IPA’s and Imperial Stouts.
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to starting your business? I’ve been involved in the local brewing scene since 2010 when my brother moved to Oklahoma from San Diego. We started brewing together and soon were creating flavorful batches almost once a week. I began going into Coop Ale Works and giving my time each week to clean tanks, wash kegs, clear out mash tuns, and occasionally watch the boil. In return I would often get ingredients to brew with. Eventually I was hired part time to work on the manual canning line, which made for some good times and great memories. Yes, the good old days. Being exposed to the craft beer scene in this way allowed for opportunity to help build into the brewing community in unique ways. Among other things, I’ve been able to be involved with the Oklahoma Craft Beer Festival for the past several years, and helped organize Mashed In — an event that showcases Oklahoma home brewers.
The more my involvement with craft beer deepened, the more my love for it grew. I began to have a desire to develop my vocation around it. Blending my hobby with business and community sounded like a lovely idea. I really wanted to figure out how I could use business to spread the gospel of craft beer here in Oklahoma, and make a living while doing it. With the local food truck scene growing, it seemed like having beer on wheels would be well received. This is where the idea for turning a school bus into a beer bus came to life. I dreamed of getting an old bus and building a taproom inside, where old and new friends could sit and enjoy meaningful conversation while drinking a tasty beverage. The feel would be warm and welcoming. The Big Friendly is Oklahoma City’s nickname, and it was the perfect name for the bus. And so the journey began.
Knowing that you are a transplant to Oklahoma, tell us some of your background and why you chose Oklahoma to share your love of beer with? Although I was exposed to craft beer in San Diego, my love for it grew in Oklahoma. The small, but rapidly growing community welcomed me. Short story: my bro and I walk into Coop in 2010 and end up chatting with Chase Healey and Blake Jarolim for about 3 hours. That was cool…but I was blown away when Blake, a guy I had just met, came over to my sister’s house to walk my brother and I through all grain brewing. My love of beer has been cultivated here because of the hospitality, accessibility, and generosity of the community that forms it. Guys were excited to share knowledge, insight, and experience with me. I just started giving my time to the brewing community that was giving its time to me. Oklahoma loves supporting those who support it. So I wouldn’t say I chose Oklahoma to share my love of beer with, but rather, Oklahoma chose to share its love of beer with me.
What types of beers are featured in your bus? We only serve beer that has been crafted in Oklahoma. We’d really like to use the bus to educate and promote the craft of beer in our state. There is a lot of great beer being made here and people need to know about it. We have served a wide range of beers including sours, saisons, pale ales, blondes, browns, pilsners, lagers, session IPAs, and many others.
Do you have a beer theory? It is possible for anyone to become a lover of beer.
You shared with me that you only serve Oklahoma beers in the truck, what other things do you do to promote and support the advancement of Oklahoma Craft beers? I want to continue to create things that strengthen the brewing community here in Oklahoma. Recently I was able to put together the Oklahoma Craft Beer Deck — a poker deck that promotes craft beer in our state. It shows the brewing process, and features breweries, beer bars, home brew clubs, home brew shops, events, and organizations that are all contributing in some way to the incredible community of craft beer in Oklahoma.
What spawns your love for Oklahoma? Simply put: the people. There’s not much to do besides field parties and grilling out so people just end up hanging out with people. This fosters a very natural love for community. Because of this, people become very skilled in relationship. People value people here, and this is what matters most.
In addition, with all of the growth and entrepreneurship taking place, it feels like we are going through somewhat of a renaissance. This makes for a fascinating and wonderful time to live in Oklahoma. I love being part of that, too. I also like the weather.
What services do you currently offer? The bus is available to rent for weddings, holiday parties, house parties, and corporate events. We also love to bring it to public events around the metro to spread the cheer of local beer!
Are there specific challenges or advantages that come with having a mobile business? A mobile business is much more limited in providing a consistent connection with loyal patrons and those who are curiously seeking a first visit. Of course this is because we don’t have a permanent location, and when we’re open, our hours are limited. Also, many of the events we do are for private parties, and closed to the public. Although this is a disadvantage, it also can be advantageous in the fact that we can take the beer to the people, wherever the people may be. We can take the bus to the intimate spaces and hidden places that are sprinkled around. Word of the bus spreads like seeds scattered throughout the city, which have the opportunity to take root in a much more meaningful way.
What fun and exciting things can we see coming in the future for The Big Friendly? We’ve recently partnered with the Wheeler District for Big Friendly Fridays at the Ferris Wheel. We’ll be out every Friday evening from 5pm – 10pm and are really looking forward to building into what’s taking place in the Wheeler District.
When you aren’t out spreading your beer cheer, what are your favorite things to do? I love being with my wife. We’ve been married for 15 months and it’s been amazing. Brewing beer is definitely high on the list.
Thanks for sharing with us Joe!