I’ve taken this quarantine seriously. Grabbing a beer at a semi-crowded bar is not something I’m interested in right now, but I knew I had to go when it was announced Salvadore Ross was performing live at Yellow Cab Tavern’s outdoor Food Truck Hub. I marked my calendar for Friday, May 15, the day Gov. DeWine lightened restrictions on temporarily shuttered restaurants and bars.
It’s unlikely we’ll see the return of large concerts or club shows until a coronavirus vaccine or treatment is widely available. However, with safety measures implemented, an outdoor show is viable at a venue with a large fenced-in parking lot with plenty of room for social distancing. That was proven this weekend by Mark Jeffers, Tara Moore, Brian Johnson and the rest of the diligent staff at Yellow Cab in downtown Dayton.
The establishment, which is in a former taxi-cab depot near the Oregon District, is uniquely set up for such an event. There are large garage doors on the south side of the building, which open up to the large parking lot. Yellow Cab already has a designated outdoor patio for eating and drinking and years of experience hosting food truck rallies onsite but reopening during a pandemic was a new challenge.
“Trying to provide a safe environment for our employees and customers while at the same time giving them a space to relax and have fun is a tricky balance,” Moore said. “We have to source PPE, new packaging and more product at a time when most other businesses are shut down. We also have to follow the new guidelines we’ve been given and try our best to form new habits.”
The gates opened at 4 p.m. and I arrived about 10 after. I had faith the folks at Yellow Cab would be safe but I was still a bit apprehensive on the drive down Wayne Avenue. After two months of home quarantine and the lockdown of restaurants and bars, I wasn’t sure what kind of turnout to expect. I had already seen photos of close-talking patrons packed together in Wisconsin bars, laughing and hugging like it was Super Bowl Sunday. Was I going to meet the same scenario?
Not at all, thankfully. There was no great throng of people waiting to rush into Yellow Cab to start partying like it was 1999.
“We did enough advance messaging on it that most people had an understanding of what to expect when they came out,” Johnson said. “There were only a handful of difficult people who tried to come in but we didn’t let them on the lot. If our rules aren’t for them, there are other places they can go with looser restrictions.”
Despite a short popup rain shower, it was the perfect spring night for a food truck rally. It was partly cloudy and the temperature was in the 70s. There were a handful masked attendees sitting at carefully spaced tables, awaiting their food and drink orders. A few people wandered in for carryout orders from Hade Pino, Billie Gold Bubble Tea, Twisted Taco, Mommaz Boyz and Yellow Cab’s inhouse Pizza Bandit.
“My only concern with playing the event was if the public could come in and handle this respectfully and actually be responsible and follow the rules,” said Kyle Byrum of Salvadore Ross. “After talking to the staff at Yellow Cab, they assured me there would be more security than normal and that anybody not adhering to the rules will be removed immediately. I like that they’re taking it serious. They’re respecting the impact the virus has had so far. They’re handling this like professionals, but I would expect nothing less from them.”
The table conversations were subdued before the music started. The main sound was the thrum of the generators powering the food trucks. A few people approached the gate, only to leave when they discovered all orders at Yellow Cab that night, and the rest of the weekend, had to be placed online through the Pizza Bandit site.
Food and drinks for carryout were available for pick up at a table in the center of Yellow Cab’s main room, while mask-clad staff members delivered food to sit-down customers. There were signs reminding people to remain at their tables and not to mingle.
“I’m not here to tell other businesses what to do, but I can tell you safety is going to remain our number one top priority at Yellow Cab,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be data-driven. We’re going to be science-driven and if that’s not what people want to do then there are other places they can go.”
It was a little after 8 p.m. and the sun was starting to dip down behind the downtown buildings to the west when Salvadore Ross began the first of two electrifying sets of psychedelic rock. It was a bit strange to have the audience so spread out, but that’s what it means to party safely when it’s 2020. However, people sitting at tables while the band played didn’t detract from the fact that, for now, we were all back together enjoying live music.
“It was an honor to be the first band to be playing and to be able to do it safely,” Byrum said. “You don’t want to get in trouble, do it wrong or contribute to a disaster but I’m really relieved we were able to pull it off and make it work. Everybody at Yellow Cab took it seriously. I was pretty impressed with the way they adapted to the situation so they can continue to thrive and stay in business.”
The crowd was never unmanageable, fluctuating between 20 and 50 attendees. There were a few couples out for dinner and friend groups of three and four. Everyone was respectful. They wore masks, kept their distance and followed the venue’s rules.
“The hardest part was threading the needle, finding the sweet spot between keeping everyone safe and still having an enjoyable time in a space where live music can work,” Johnson said. “A lot of people have expectations with live music. They want to get close to the stage. They want to get close to each other and dance but we have to maintain a middle ground on that.
“OK, we’re going to have live music and it’s not going to feel the same — but it’s the only way we’re able to do it,” Johnson said. “Rather than not do it at all, we’re going to do it in a way that’s responsible.”
Even with the additional safety measures and the limitation on attendance, Moore says these events with food and music should be financially viable for Yellow Cab.
“We will continue to be open every week, Thursday through Sunday,” she said. “Every day is a challenge right now but we have had some very good sales days. We love Dayton and we love our community. It has been nice to have some normalcy back in our lives. We want everyone to responsibly and safely enjoy local businesses. Dayton Strong!”
The food truck hub continues Thursdays through Sundays at Yellow Cab. Amber Hargett will perform solo on Friday, May 22. Sadbox will perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 23.
More info: www.yellowcabtavern.com.
Thank you for reading the Dayton Daily News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Dayton Daily News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.