Food News

How 2 Friends Turned a Pandemic Pop-Up into a Shipping Container Restaurant

Co-owners Andrew Felix and Bryan McCarrick of Sink or Swim.
Co-owners Andrew Felix and Bryan McCarrick of Sink or Swim. Mer Norwood
The mantra “sink or swim” is the perfect way to describe Andrew Felix and Bryan McCarrick’s journey from bartenders to Cubano slingers.

The co-founders of pop-up restaurant Sink or Swim met in the food and beverage industry, first at the Four Seasons Resort. They related over working-class backgrounds and opposite but balancing personalities. Next, they both moved to Century Grand, an award-winning cocktail bar on Indian School Road.

“Andrew decided to pitch Jason Asher, owner of Century Grand, on a food cart idea we had been working on," McCarrick says. "They handed us the green light and we took over the Century Grand parking lot."

The duo started serving food from a tent on Fridays and Saturdays. Starting their new business was a stressful and delicate balance as they were both still bartending. Eventually, all food plans were discontinued due to the pandemic, and the two had to regroup.

After getting a taste of entrepreneurship, they wanted more so Felix and McCarrick forged ahead and partnered with the owners of The Wandering Tortoise, a beer bar nearby.

They set up shop in yet another parking lot, and the pace started to pick up quickly. Sink or Swim became not only the name for the concept, but a mantra for the business.

“Andrew sold his truck used for landscaping during COVID,” McCarrick says, “And then I cashed out my 401K. It's just evolved into something that we didn't expect. We've always wanted to do cool stuff, but the service community has really embraced us.”

click to enlarge The Phoenix Cubano by Sink or Swim. - MER NORWOOD
The Phoenix Cubano by Sink or Swim.
Mer Norwood
Sink or Swim is here to be a part of it. Serving late-night eats, Sink or Swim’s core demographic is bar food for those in the service industry, and anyone who wants a midnight snack on weekends.

“After COVID, everyone that had passion stayed [in the industry] and everyone that treated it like a job, left. It cleared the house. The community is growing so much and it just keeps getting bigger and closer," Felix says.

The menu for Sink or Swim draws inspiration from the duo's dining experiences, whether that be bartending, working with quality ingredients at fine dining restaurants, or cooking and eating at family gatherings.

The Phoenix Cubano sources local ingredients, with Swiss and ham from Schreiner’s, pretzel buns from Nice Buns Bakery, and pickles from Infamous Pickles. With pork marinated with herbs for seven hours and topped with Japanese mayo– the sandwich is equal parts carbs and meaty juiciness.

The Adobo Chicken Rice Bowl is a Filipino-inspired rice dish, and Felix describes it jovially, “as if Adobo and Teriyaki had a baby.” The heat comes from Calabrian chile, a chile from Southern Italy, which has a tangy, spicy flavor.

click to enlarge The Adobo Chicken Rice Bowl by Sink or Swim. - MER NORWOOD
The Adobo Chicken Rice Bowl by Sink or Swim.
Mer Norwood
“We’re kind of all over all the place, but it's also allowed us to be whatever we want. If you're a taco truck, that's all you can do,” McCarrick says. “We do rice bowls, we do Cuban sandwiches. When you look at it through the lens of what people want to eat in the service industry, I think this is our M.O.”

Another aspect that differentiates Sink or Swim from their taco-selling counterparts is their lack of a truck. What started out as a part-time gig at the Wandering Tortoise turned into a full-time opportunity and the duo needed a permanent solution.

“We didn't need the truck part of [a food truck]. We didn't need to take it anywhere. And so Andrew said, ‘Why don't we do a shipping container?’” McCarrick says.

If you see a shipping container with a shark on it wafting delicious food smells from inside, you’ve come to the right place. Sink or Swim serves its diverse menu from its shipping container home in front of The Wandering Tortoise and from a pop-up at Highball Cocktail Bar near downtown Phoenix.

click to enlarge The Sink or Swim shipping container with co-owners Andrew Felix and Bryan McCarrick. - MER NORWOOD
The Sink or Swim shipping container with co-owners Andrew Felix and Bryan McCarrick.
Mer Norwood
“I do think we are underdogs in the fact that it's not a full kitchen back there. We still are like a mobile thing,” McCarrick says. “But I think if we can do it with that, if we can do more with less, it'll set us up in the future to be like, ‘Man, we did this. We cooked three years out of a shipping container.’ And imagine what we could do when we have a full, brick and mortar place.”

As Sink and Swim continues to evolve, the two are evolving with it. They plan to grow the concept into a bar, and sell hot sauce that gives back to the community, too.

“The USBG (United States Bartenders’ Guild) set up this thing in the beginning of the pandemic, and gave out food and supplies. It was such a come-together moment. We want to be part of that, especially if anything like this ever happens again. We want to be able to have an impact on the community,” McCarrick says, explaining the early inspiration for selling hot sauce.

While Sink or Swim isn’t quite there yet, the owners plan to do what it takes to get them there.

When Sink or Swim switched from being open two days a week to five, “I had to leave my full-time job,” Felix says. “It was scary, and I think that’s when people are scared the most, taking that jump. It was a leap of faith.”

Now that leap of faith has turned into a growing business. Next time you’re enjoying a craft beer from The Wandering Tortoise or a cocktail from Highball, think of Sink or Swim for late-night street food. Whoever said there were no sharks in the desert, was wrong. Swim on.

Sink or Swim

2417 East Indian School Road
Tuesday - Thursday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday 5 p.m. to midnight. Saturday 2 p.m. to midnight.
www.instagram.com/sinkorswimphx/
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Merichelle has chronicled her many food adventures since 2016. She is the Founder of the local food blog She Forks PHX. You’re most likely to find her munching on tacos on a Tuesday, sipping brews at a local cafe, or eating unicorn cakes.
Contact: Mer Norwood