STARK COUNTY Anyone who has eaten foods prepared by one of the many local food trucks knows how hard the chefs work in the trucks and how creative the foods can be.
Chefs and owners have had to extend their creativity this season to finding ways to stay in business.
Most food trucks in the area have seasons starting in mid to late spring going through September or October. This season, because of COVID19, many fairs, weddings, street festivals and other events have been canceled through July and some through August.
What effect will the pandemic have on the multi-billion dollar global food truck industry?
According to food.ee, a blog site focused on food, the food truck industry has been outgrowing commercial food service such as restaurants by a 5.4 percent (for food trucks) to 4.3 percent margin. Many in the restaurant business are also opening their own food trucks serving casual or fun foods to keep up with the growth.
Locally, food trucks are finding ways to spur business, but the road to new business has had a few bumps and potholes. Three local food truck owners share their 2020 journey path to success.
Sara Corona and Stacey Cooper from Louisville own and operate the Sweet Spot Truck which serves desserts with a focus on gelato made by a chef from Cleveland; Shawn McCartney from Canton owns Doanvilles Finest Foods and serves bestsellers such as buffalo chicken risotto balls and boneless and bone in chicken wings; and Rick Waite from Massillon owns and operates Cheezylicious which specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches with bestsellers like the 5-Star Grilled Cheese with barbecued pulled pork and mac n cheese and the Pineapple Island Melt with a pineapple chutney spread.
Sweet Spot Truck
Corona said this is the fifth season for their popular food truck.
"Stacey and I both work at Louisville City School but about six years ago we thought it would be fun to have a food truck over the summer," Corona said. "We just kept talking about it and then we just decided to do it. We usually do 15-20 events a season. This year, we only have five events on the calendar right now."
She said they have been setting up at some private events such as graduations, business appreciation days and a few others. Corona added that gelato, while it is frozen, doesn’t keep well like ice cream and that the product doesn’t sell well at certain events. The food truck has done exceptionally well at events such as the 720 Markets which most of the early schedule for 720 has been canceled or rescheduled.
"We love doing weddings but all of those have been canceled for June and July. Bouncing back from this is in question at this point. The plan is to finish out the 2020 season. Our events help us pay all of the associated expenses like insurance, truck repairs, licensing and fees so the 2021 season is in question," Corona said. "People are really happy to see us come to an event and the kids love the big white truck with colorful dots on it, that makes it all worth it to us."
To talk to Corona about booking an event, call her at 419-569-3655.
Doanvilles Finest Foods
McCartney’s parents own the Chateau Michele in Canton and he worked there before starting his own food truck in 2017.
"I do my prep work for the truck at the restaurant," McCartney said. "I went through two years of culinary school at Jackson High School and two years at the Sullivan University in Louisville, Ky."
He said his truck season stretches from mid-April to after Halloween in October. In a typical season, he is booked at least two times a week. In the winter season, he works at the Bistro in Green.
"I’ve had several cancellations this year, but I’ve also gained some new events, too. My staple events have been First Friday’s downtown Canton, the Plain Township Farmer’s Market, weddings, rehearsal dinners and other private events. The Plain Township Farmer’s Market has been canceled for the year, but the same organizers have re-opened at North Canton, so I’ll be setup there a few times," McCartney said.
A few new accounts have opened up for him such as auto parts stores in Akron and Canton. He said he has been to 12 locations for Advanced Auto Parts and O’Reilly’s Auto Parts and he’s also setup at Hills and Dale’s Auto. Plus, while Loby’s Bar and Grill in Canton was closed, he was parked outside for more than a month and McCartney said the truck did "really well" during that time.
"Birthday parties have been great for us, too," he said. "Some communities like Glenmoor and Monticello have had me come out and park at their clubhouses for everyone in the community. There are few of the events that were canceled this spring rescheduled for September and October which if they do go will give us a nice ending to our 2020 season," McCartney said.
For more details about Doanvilles, call 330-323-8464.
Cheezylicious Food Truck
Since starting in 2017 and going operational in 2018, Waite said he and his parents, Clara and Richard, have had full busy seasons. They only had four days off last season, they were working nonstop from March through October.
This year is a bit different.
"All of the festivals we were scheduled for have been canceled and many of the business lunches, graduations, weddings, car shows and other private events have been canceled," Waite said. "We have replaced some of the loss with popups like setting up at the Tractor Supply in Massillon every Tuesday and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m."
Waite said the year will end up making less than last year, but he said that he received a small business loan from the stimulus package and that will help them "be OK through the end of the year."
He said he also refinanced his original loan to bring the interest rate down which will help the bottom line.
"We are hoping to do some festivals in September and October," he said. "The truck usually travels within a one-hour radius of Massillon. We’ve had events in Dover and New Philadelphia and Wooster, but most of our business has been in Stark and Summit counties.
"I think that we as a food truck community have to be able to adapt and push ahead," Waite said. "We do help each other out a lot and refer business to each other. It is a tight knit group even though we are competitors. We always try to eat each other’s foods. It’s an industry that provides fresh quality foods that are made as fast as possible. And, we are creative about what we do."
He added that many food truck owners are professional chefs, he has studied at a culinary school and has worked in catering.
He also mentioned that all of the trucks are providing service in a safe and sanitized manner with social distancing and cleaning.
To learn more about booking Cheezylicious, call 234-214-3968.