The food truck trend that has been rolling out across the state dishing up hot plates to hungry patrons is one that many in the industry say is not likely to go away.
The trend has been slowly trickling into Ohio after finding traction on the East and West coast with Columbus currently fueling some of the largest growth in the state.
“The economy forced many people to find other ways to make a living and become entrepreneurs,” said Michael A. Gallicchio, owner and organizer of the Columbus Food Truck and Cart Fest, LLC , which last month put on a two-day food truck festival featuring 50 food trucks. He says his event in August drew more than 15,000 people. This Friday, Sept. 28, his organization will be putting on the Autumn Columbus Food Truck and Cart Festival at the downtown Columbus Commons on High Street. He believes that his festival’s ongoing success speaks to the public’s interest in food trucks and hunger for more options.
The 2011 Restaurant Industry Forecast from the National Restaurant Association parallelled Gallicchio’s sentiments. The 2011 report predicted “food trucks and pop up restaurants will be the hottest restaurant operational trend in 2011.”
With the number of food truck vendors increasing rapidly across Ohio, it’s hard to get exact numbers, but Gallicchio says there’s no doubt it’s a growing phenomenon with large cities like Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland seeing major growth and smaller cities like Dayton seeing slower gains but steady interest.
“Trucks aren’t cheap, but they’re cheaper than a restaurant, and they can go where the people are,” said Steve Concilla, co-owner and operator of Columbus-based That Food Truck with partner Dan Kraus. “Also, many fine dining restaurants have closed over the past few years so many skillful chefs have been left looking for work. Most of the truck owners I know are all former restaurant or corporate chefs.”
Concilla’s truck took just over six months to build, and was set up to flow and function like a restaurant kitchen line.
“Everyone who steps onboard our truck is amazed at how homey it feels inside. Dan and I knew we would be spending a great deal of time on the truck and wanted to make it as comfortable as possible. We even laid vinyl wood flooring to make it feel like our kitchens at home,” said Concilla.
His truck — like many food trucks — offers a rotating seasonal menu with multiple price points, in this case they have items ranging from $3 squash fritters to $10 bone-in tomahawk cut pork chops.
One of the newest trucks to take to the road is OmNom Mobile Cafe. Owner Xtine Brean of Jefferson Township says hers is Dayton’s only completely vegetarian food truck. She can be found most Saturday mornings selling outside of the Webster Street Market at 32 Webster St., Dayton.
She said her decision to go with a mobile eatery was an easy one.
“We’re more accessible to the public. No reservations needed, no dress code, much more flexible in hours of operations,” said Brean. “I think you get a lot more of the personality of the chef/truck owner in each of their dishes. We are not so ‘homogenized’ as your typical eatery.”
And the food truck renaissance in Ohio has continued to push forward with concepts like Dinin’ Hall at 400 W. Rich St. in Columbus that operates 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The downtown location features a rotating roster of food trucks. You pick your food truck, make your order, are issued a number and a ticket. You can then go inside the Dinin’ Hall and pay. Find a table in the slick, industrial space and your food is brought to you when it’s ready. Concilla says its a way to have a sit down gourmet dining experience at lunchtime that’s affordably priced.
“The food truck scene (in Central Ohio) is constantly growing and improving,” said Concilla. “Right now the food available from food trucks in Ohio has never been better … Not a week goes by without seeing a new truck out on the streets somewhere.”