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Community: Mikeguyver

5 May

If there is something wrong in your food truck world, who you gonna call? MikeGyver!

Who is this Mikegyver and why he is respected more than Chuck Norris and MacGyver combined? Read on.

MikeguyverJPG

Mikegyver, aka Tyvek, Metal Mike and Bearded Mike is known in other parts of the world as Mike Lauletta. He first came to the attention of the mobile food community while picking up some hours at Dinin’ Hall where he was known as Dinin’ Hall Mike. This was a convenient gig for him because he uses studio space at 400 West Rich so in between creating metal works, crafting Rube Goldberg style devices and working on various artistic outreach projects, he could hop over to Dinin’ Hall to help out and make a bit of spending money.

I interviewed Mike to find out how he became a mobile food icon.

“I got my start on a food truck from Laura Lee, chef/owner of Ajumama. We met at Dinin’ Hall and she needed some part-time help on her truck. I have a lot of experience cooking in restaurants, everything from steak houses to authentic Louisiana Creole.” After working on Ajumama, Mike started to work with other food trucks based at The Food Fort including OH! Burgers and That Food Truck. In addition to cooking and working the window, Mike has also helped clean out trucks, repaired damaged equipment and assisted with updates and modifications to design. In between that, he also started picking up some hours working with a caterer based there. There are countless Mike’s involved in the Columbus Mobile Food scene so to keep this Mike straight from Pizza Mike, Mikey’s, Mike and Other Mike from Flattop Pizza, Mike G and countless others….Mike was initially known as Bearded Mike. As his skills became more renown and in spite of the fact that he does not have duct tape holstered to him, as astute individual started to call him Mikegyver so the moniker stuck.

So what else does he do? “When I’m not living the dream working on a food truck, I am a sculptor. Mostly work in Cast Metal and Concrete, but no material is off my pallet/palate/palette. I can make anything you can imagine.”

I asked Mikegyver a few questions about what he has observed and learned in the Food Truck world.

Any interesting observations about the Food Truck world?

All I can say is if I had a dollar for every time a food truck owner told me ,” don’t tell anyone else this, but ….”

Any advice for food truck customers based one what you have learned?

Read the whole menu before you ask any questions and of course we take credit cards…. it’s the future.

Any Advice for Food Truck owners based on your experiences?

My advice for truck owners, if you are in it for money quit now. And don’t let anyone push you around. It is your burden/business so be open to advice but do what you want.

Being the hired gun / High Plains Drifter / Lone Ranger of the Food Truck world, if someone needs your services, how do they contact you? Is there a Mikegyver signal like Batman?

If someone would like to contract my services my email is Mikesinside@gmail.com

Sharon Square Food Arcade

13 Apr

SSFA2

So here is the thing. Well one of the things. While the whole concept of mobile food is being on the move, if an owner wants business people need to find the truck or cart. The best way to do that is to pick a spot, go there consistently for set hours, “train” the community to seeing you there and wondering what you do. Then with some luck, a lot of marketing, a good product and plenty of word of mouth….maybe you get enough business to keep going there. Investing that much time and risk into one spot is a lot to ask a new business and being stationary is contrary to mobile food right? Maybe not.

Someone on the move in the mobile food community is Rosa Huff, the owner of Crepes a la Carte. Full of Chutzpah and ideas she often a whirlwind of chaotic energy. She and her husband own a computer business at Sharon Square, a small retail strip right on the line between Worthington and Columbus….actually the line runs almost exactly in the middle of the parking lot. Long ago, Sharon Square housed a pizzeria. There is a hard to see walkway in the middle of the building which has an arcade feel to it. Rosa’s mind started to churn and she wondered…”maybe I can set up in the parking lot and serve my own community”. She tried it out on the late fall/early winter of 2012 and took the winter off to tweak the concept.

OK let’s track back a paragraph to this sentence Investing that much time and risk into one spot is a lot to ask a new business and being stationary is contrary to mobile food right? So how about teaming up with other mobile vendors to get more attention and building a following for the spot by offering a diversity of foods and making sure the hours that are committed to the community are covered. Somewhat unique to the world of business is mobile food, at least in Columbus. Most food trucks and carts view themselves as a community, not hardcore competitors but collaborators. It is their job to grow their own business and one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that like-minded businesses do more than survive, they need to thrive so they can be sustainable and legitimize the “brand” of mobile food. So with all this being said, Rosa looked for someone to partner with to build her concept in 2013 and she choose Matt and Lyle from Swoop.

Together with some other guest star mobile fooders, they have been quietly growing the Sharon Square Food Arcade over the winter. I contacted Lyle from Swoop to get some scoops on what is going on now and what we can expect to see in the future.

What is the current schedule for Sharon Square Food Arcade?

We are currently opening on Tuesday and Wednesday from 6pm to 8pm as follows

4/16/13 TBA

4/17/13 Ajumama

4/23/13 Cheesy Truck

4/24/13 TBA

4/30/13 Paddy Wagon

5/1/13 Kenny’s Meat Wagon

How many vendors are there now? Are there plans to expand the number of vendors?

We have 9 vendors but would like to expand that if possible its just a matter of making sure everyone involved has a good experience.

Are there plans to expand the number of days or times of service?

Right now we like the hours of 6pm to 8pm for dinner. It is a good second shift for any mobile vendor to tack on a few extra dollars to a lunch day. We also know how hard it is on the body to be in the truck or standing in the sun for too many hours so that will probably stay the same.

In May we will probably introduce Fridays and Saturdays (Saturdays probably extended lunch hours 12pm to 3pm)

What inspired the name?

There is an old arcade in Sharon Square that is hopefully a part of the future of the pod (maybe a place to go inside and eat during the hotter/colder months) Ultimately if the old arcade never becomes of use to the pod we still like the name a lot!

How did Swoop get involved?

Rosa and her Husband Tom have a computer shop in the strip mall and live nearby and became very conscious of the fact that the food in the area needed a little more variety and because of Rosa’s connection to mobile food she saw a very easy way to give her neighbors and friends new food to try (bring the restaurants to them!). Swoop! wanted to add a couple more dinners to their schedule in the winter months and saw this location as perfect place to test for a future pod. Swoop! boosted the mobile food awareness for the neighborhood and now that its getting warm wants everyone to share in the square (get it Sharon Square…share in square).

How can people find out more about the Sharon Square Food Arcade?

Facebook: facebook.com/5594NHigh

and email inquires: Sharonsquarefoodarcade@gmail.com

Anything else that you want to add?

We brought out the food that we felt best fit the feedback we got from the neighbors but we encourage everyone to like the Facebook page as well so that we can continue to poll everyone and schedule the vendors that the people in the area want the most and in turn create a place for mobile food to always have a good and profitable service.

Note: You may see the lack on Swoop in the schedule and some TBA’s. The Swoop Food Truck was hit by a car in early April and will be out of commission for a short while, in the meantime, they may make some appearances in food cart form so people don’t suffer lackofswoopitis.

Where to find the Sharon Square Food Arcade:

5594 North High Street (1 mile south of SR 161, 1 mile north of Morse Road)
Columbus not Worthington….but almost

Columbus Food Truck Culture: A Documentary

6 Mar

In 2012, two OSU students spent months following the Food Truck Scene in Columbus. The end result was a great insight into all aspects of the food truck business and what makes them tick. If you are a fan or considering starting a mobile food business, this is worth watching. Thank you Alexis and Dan for your good work on: A Quick Bite: Columbus’ Food Truck Scene

Several Food trucks are featured in the foreground and background of this project. Much of the insight into this mobile culture comes from Ajumama, OH! Burgers, Pitabilities and That Food Truck.

Dan

The documentary breaks things down into these segments (the link is below).

The Nuts and Bolts (Building a Food Truck)

What it Takes
(The Food Truck Biz is not Rock & Roll all night and party every day, it is hard work and not for everyone).

Challenges and Conflicts
The explosion of mobile food has moved faster than city government can react to, thusly there is a lot of ambiguity in regulations and a few rules that don’t make sense.

Community and Culture
The Food Trucks in Columbus are a collaborative community, which is unique in the food service industry.

Food Truck Fest
The September Food Truck Fest at Columbus Commons is one of the biggest events of the year and allows people to see how everything comes together.

The State of Columbus Mobile Food: A Resolution for 2013

24 Dec

What does the world of mobile food have in store for our city in 2013? We know from the past year there will be more vendors and more places that seek their services. There will be more events large and small. No surprises there.

The mystery for the new year, is what direction our city government will take in their approach to kitchens on wheels. The rise of mobile food has taken the city somewhat off guard as several departments struggle on how to license and permit these vendors. The interpretation of existing regulations has frequently been inconsistent and unclear.

Many in the city have embraced the rise of mobile food for the diversity it brings to our menu choices as well as the attention it brings to Columbus as the mobile food capital of Ohio and the Midwest. A recent article by Joe Vargo from Experience Columbus showcases what we have to be proud of -> read this

However the path to glory has not been without many speed bumps as well as some hurt feelings and profit margins. Since the Taco Truck community sprouted in 2001, it has faced reservations from citizens and public servants. In the mainstream mobile world – which has exploded since 2010, two very popular vendors have faced significant gridlock, frustration and miscommunication with the powers that be – Ray Ray’s Hog Pit and (the now defunct) Yerba Buena.

The city has different regulations for each type of vendor: food truck, food cart and food trailer. The guidelines for food carts are relatively clear based in rules created based on challenges in the 1980’s. However – the rules that do, don’t or might not apply to trucks and trailers have been an area of confusion, which was exacerbated by the rise of mobile food in our communities. In the last few months’ positive steps have been taken to address these areas of concern read here and here.

More work is needed to create guidelines that are clear and reasonable for vendors while being easy to administer and sustainable by the city departments charged with permitting, licensing and enforcing rules for mobile vendors.

Currently, the Columbus Department of Public Health gets good marks from the mobile community for having easily understood guidelines and being responsive to questions from mobile vendors. The department has led an initiative to create a guide that includes all the requirements from each involved department (public safety, fire, zoning, and etc.) for each type of vendor: cart, truck and trailer. The guide would list the contact person in each department, the relevant regulations and fees and cite the regulations that apply to the vendor and where to find the full regulations for review. The goal is to have this resource ready by March 2013.

However there is a bit of a snag. The Department of Public Safety revised some guidelines in August that were initially interpreted as being more restrictive of mobile vendors. One of the primary causes of concern is the interpretation that each vendor and each employee of that vendor must obtain a peddlers permit. The cost of the permit is about $150 and can take up to thirty days to issue. For vendor who employs several full time, part-time and contingent employees this is a significant financial and logistical burden. For those of you in small business can you imagine the costs you would have to have to pay that amount of money for each employee before they work one day….and if they stay having to pay that fee again each year? What about for employees that only work one day or that you need next week not thirty days from now? Another section is interpreted as requiring a promoter license for each vendor? This causes confusion since being a peddler and a promoter seems to be somewhat exclusive (or redundant depending on whom you speak to) and of course it is an extra fee. A final area of consternation is where can mobile vendors park? The interpretation of the wording of the August regulations is no parking of any kind on any street. This is in conflict with statements and interpretations from several agencies in the past.

In July of this year the city and Experience Columbus worked with some food trucks to supplement food options for a convention that was considering renewing it’s commitment to come to Columbus. In the preceding year, there was a complaint about not having enough food options to feed visitors in a timely manner to get them back to their seminars because neighboring restaurants were closed on Mondays or too far of a walk away. The food trucks were recruited to address this concern to assist feeding the conventioneers quickly. In the past, food trucks were allowed to serve from a bagged meter (which required the Department of Public Safety’s oversight and review). Although there was no impact to safety or parking the bagged meter permits were denied. It was an opportunity to gain revenue for the city in fees and make some convention goers happy and possibly more likely to renew their commitment to the convention center and lock in choosing our city to spend money in. The loss of the bagged metered parking was not known until the last-minute however the food trucks kept their commitment, showed up and parked in the worst possible place. Because of the undesirable set up location they served about 20 people. It was frustrating for all involved.

To learn more about some of the frustrations vendors struggle with – click -> here to view a good video documentary on our food truck culture.

The city is being proactive and has gathered a group of stakeholders to create what is hoped to be the most progressive mobile food guidelines in the country. Our city and our government has the ability to do that. The challenge is to do so in a reasonable period of time – which is not one year or six months. This needs to be signed, sealed and delivered by March of 2013. Why this timeframe? Because this is when the major licensing, permitting and inspection period starts for the next season in the city. To wait longer would be a disservice to those that are creating or revising business plans for the new year and it would promote procrastination something seen too often in public service and decision-making.

These are a few significant community concerns that need to be resolved to please the many communities that have a stake in these discussions.

1) Parking on the streets. Some restaurant owners are concerned that a mobile vendor may park in front of their business and take business away. Some retail store owners are concerned that a truck parked on the street or at a meter near their business can block customers looking to find a place to park near by or block their signage from being seen from street level. From a mobile vendor perspective – most want to set up where there are a lot of people but not a lot of food options – so parking in near a restaurant does not make sense to the majority. However, parking near a brewery or business that would benefit from the foot traffic draw of “food trucks” does click.

2) Overnight parking. Some trailers and trucks stay in one place to serve the public in order to develop a regular and steady customer base. The Department of Public Health guidelines state that mobile vendors must move every forty days. For zoning the interpretation is every day. The negative impact of a business of moving daily was best shown in circumstances of Jaime Anderson and Ray Ray’s. While there was no health or safety need to move daily the interpretation is there but it is enforced inconsistency. Is this reasonable? Would moving once per week or not being able to be on site more than three days in a row serve the same purpose?

3) There is a perception by some that mobile food vendors have an unfair advantage over other businesses – these businesses would disagree with that contention. The start-up costs are smaller than their brick and mortar peers but the hard work is not and the challenges of being a kitchen on wheels are not for the faint of heart or light of funds. A broken window puts a food truck out of business until it is fixed – a restaurant can go on. Bathrooms are a great thing to have whether you are a customer or an employee. Being able to move from a bad spot to a good one is easy for a truck but impossible for a restaurant. There are pros and cons to both models but the common issues for both styles of food service far outweigh the differences. We need small businesses to grow and the challenges both styles face with some city government departments is daunting.

4) In an area that will not be named but is north of downtown and south of campus, there has been significant push back on mobile vendors in the neighborhood – even on private property. There is some cause for this. There is one cart vendor that is notorious for poor behavior and sanitation and he has been a concern for years. He is the exception to the rule and can be dealt with by using existing codes. There was one incident of an unlicensed vendor getting into a scuffle with a police officer – that business was shut down to the satisfaction of all. However the concerns of the area is that this rogue food cart brought rats and trash and possibly homeless individuals to the surrounding area. One rotten vendor in the very large apple cart of mobile vending could not create all of that community carnage.

So the question is this: Will Columbus rise to the challenge? One councilwoman believes we will.

The bonus question: What changes do you want to see?

Note: This editorial represents the views of only one of the Street Eats Team, this does not represent the views of an entity, group, organization or other body – just one individual. Where information might not be fully objective – it is still well-reasoned, insightful and worth consideration.

Food Truck Pods

4 Jun

No doubt you’ve noticed that the street food scene has exploded in Columbus this year. There are new trucks appearing every week and lots of festivals this summer are prominently featuring food trucks. At some of these festivals they’re the main attraction.

There’s another new development on the food truck scene – the rise of food truck ‘pods’. Pioneered by cities like Portland and Austin, and long popular on the west coast, this is the first year that they have been appearing in Columbus.

There doesn’t seem to be any official definition of a ‘pod’, but here’s our take on it: A pod is a grouping of food trucks assembled at an established location (usually a parking lot) on a semi-permanent or regular basis. A pod may range from 2-20 trucks, though some suggest 3 as a minimum. There is often some seating or dining area.

Here’s our round up of the food truck pods (clusters) in Columbus:

food truck pod columbus

Dinin’ Hall
Website @dininhall
Located at the 400 W Rich St., Dinin’ Hall (above) is far and away the most accommodating of the food truck pods and boasts the amenities such as an indoor seating area for up to 60 people, central payment system, and other products to purchase. There are usually 2 or 3 trucks/carts there each weekday at lunchtime. A calendar of participating trucks and their menus are available on their website.

food truck pods in columbus ohio

Campus Pitt Stop
the Pitt Stop is located at the Intersection of Lane Avenue and Kenny Road in a repurposed gas station site, and currently features 3 trucks.  Based upon conversations with the property owner, we’re expecting this pod to grow. Trucks commonly found here include: El Conquistador, Sophie’s Gourmet Pierogi and The Pickled Swine. There’s no seating area (yet), but there is some cover from the elements.

hal and als's bar food trucks

Hal & Al’s – Monthly Food Truck Hop
Facebook  @foodtruckhop
This is a monthly food truck event that takes place at Hal & Al’s bar at 1289 Parsons Ave. The next one is July 1st. They’ve been hosting around 6 trucks. Seating (and beer) is available inside the bar and there is a large grassy area where you can sit outside. In the future they plan to fence in the area so that they can serve beer outside.

food trucks at columbus commons

Columbus Commons
Information  @columbuscommons
AKA the ‘Food Truck Food Court’, occurring 11am-2pm every Thursday during the summer (until September 27th). You can expect to find 6-8 trucks there. There is outdoor seating and you can also enjoy corn hole, ping pong and bocce ball. There will also be food trucks at the commons for the Downtown LIVE events some Thursday evenings and for the June 13th Food Truck Festival.

Zauber Brewery
@zbrewery Facebook
A new microbrewery, Zauber Brewing Company is hosting food trucks at its location at 1300 Norton Ave near Grandview. Usually on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays you can find at least one food truck (and often two) set up for lunch and dinner. Check twitter and facebook for updates. This is a small pod and we expect to see them grow.

What Does The Green Tag Mean?

22 Jan

(Note: – We stole this from our Taco Trucks Columbus site. This applies to all mobile food vendors) There are several still out there serving food in the freeze of winter – so go out and give them some business.

Food carts, trucks and trailers are inspected by the Columbus Board of Health. Each vendor should display a green Columbus Health Department Color Coded Inspection Sign with the date of the last inspection. Inspections occur at least once per year, just like any restaurant or food supplier. Mobile food owners must have a peddlers license as well.

Health Department Tested, Hungry Woolf Approved

Health Department Tested, Hungry Woolf Approved

A yellow health department tag means the truck has been warned about a health code issue and is on probation while they implement recommended changes – so menu items may be limited. A red sticker indicates a major health code violation and the business is closed.

That being said, mobile food vendors can get a bad rap. Hot dog carts and hamburger stands fought these same stereotypes in the 20th century as they evolved into American icons. How many restaurant kitchens have you seen? This writer has seen some very scary kitchens behind closed doors. Mobile vendors are serving out of open kitchens – customers can see every step in the preparation process for start to serving time. If you are wary of a mobile food – ask us for a suggested truck and meal – I doubt you will be disappointed. Watch how the food is prepared. If something gives you the creeps, cut your losses and move on to the next truck. The owner of the mobile eatery is often the one cooking your food. He or she depends on repeat business to stay in business and cleanliness is the key to happy customers and health inspectors. The inspectors make regular spot checks on all mobile vendors just as they do for restaurants, grocery stores, fair food stands and elsewhere. So the answer is: street eats are as clean as any other food you eat and in this case – at least you can see it before you eat it. We think that is a very good thing.

Interested in Starting a Mobile Food Business?

14 Jul

opening a food cart in Columbus

If the answer to the title of this post is ‘yes’, then you must check out Food Fort. Food Fort is a new commissary and food business incubator space at ECDI (Economic and Community Development Institute) that offers a menu of programs for facilitating the creation of a mobile food vending business at a very low upfront cost.

In particular, we’re referring to their food cart rental program. Instead of having to raise the money to buy a cart, new vendors can now rent a cart by the day or the month. This means that someone could , say, start up and run a food cart business on the weekends while keeping their full time job just to test the water. The carts come in 3 different sizes and will all have been inspected by Columbus Public Health. The vendor just needs to obtain a peddlers license and liability insurance. Renters add their own temporary branding and signage to the cart.

commissary, food carts columbus

We had an opportunity to tour the Food Fort today. The space has storage for food carts, 8 rental carts, commissary facilities, and will soon be home to some other food businesses. It’s an impressive space with potential to expand as more businesses make their home there.

If you are looking for more information on starting a mobile food business in Columbus, here is a useful article by The Metropreneur.

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