Rolling Into New Territory

. October 20, 2015.

The food truck revolution in Toledo began in the summer of 2013, when then-Mayor Mike Bell allowed Phil Barone, owner of Rosie’s Rolling Chef, to set up shop at Levis Square (on St. Clair near Madison in downtown Toledo). Citing Chicago, Los Angeles, and Portland, Bell took notice that “The more progressive cities have this type of thing going on, and it’s just  great for the city. The question was why aren’t we doing it?” 

The two made the agreement on a handshake, and the Rolling Chef began to set up on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Barone was just the first of many food trucks who would quickly follow. “By the time we got into the fall of 2013, we had other trucks showing up. It caught on very quickly,” says Bell.  

Taming the flames

By the summer of 2014 the excitement of the food truck explosion was in full swing. This fire, however, was tamed when the late Mayor Collins attempted to pass legislation that would restrict food truck operations in downtown Toledo. Encouraged by downtown stakeholders and brick-and-mortar restaurant owners, the proposed legislation was met with opposition from food truck supporters.

The truck owners were left in a difficult situation. Unfortunately for them, their initial  agreement was just an informal handshake between Bell and Barone.

“{[That] just doesn’t hold water anymore,” says Bill Burkett, commissioner for the Department of Development. Because no one anticipated just how many trucks would come on the scene, the sudden increase in businesses caused a rift with existing, brick-and-mortar restaurants in the area. 

And according to Burkett, “The City of Toledo isn’t in charge of who can park there. I can’t even park at a [ParkSmart] parking meter with my city card in the window without getting a ticket.” 

Phone calls and messages left with ParkSmart went unreturned. 

ParkSmart still bags the meters on Thursdays in the summer for the downtown “Lunch at Levis” events, providing free parking. However, they stopped bagging them on Tuesdays, making it too difficult for the trucks to set up shop. 

Dave Ball, president of STS Properties & Facilities Management, owns several of the buildings that house downtown brick-and-mortar restaurants in this area. To Ball, it is clear:, “If the food trucks want to be a part of the progress in Toledo, they should be sympathetic to the brick-and-mortar restaurants. The solution that we’ve arrived at, [which is] allowing the trucks to have one day a week in any market, can be a real positive thing for downtown.” 

Seeking Out The Suburbs

While other downtown locations— including Jackson Street, the Main Library, and in front of the courthouse— have proven mildly successful for the trucks, in 2015 the suburban areas began receiving a lot of the attention. 

“We are being welcomed with open arms to Maumee”, says Barone. “We do Wednesdays in Arrowhead Park, and it’s been very successful. We also do Food Truck Fridays on Conant and East Wayne near St. Paul’s. With the trucks and the live music, the people are having fun, and It’s bringing more people out to Maumee.” 

Ty Szumigala of the Maumee Uptown Business Association shares Barone’s enthusiasm: “Food Truck Fridays went very well,” Szumigala explains. “[The events] had a lot of support and we plan on doing [them]again next year. The bars didn’t complain to us at all. They were happy because it got people out and walking around.” This sentiment is echoed by Jim Berger, chair of the Arrowhead Park Association, who says that they “Had six to eight trucks every Wednesday, and [we] averaged about 400 people every week. We definitely want to do it again next year.”

It seems that the vibe Bell and Barone were once trying to create for downtown Toledo has been easily spread out to the suburban cities. “We’re also talking with Perrysburg and Sylvania about having food truck days there as well,” says Barone.

Also new for this year is the launch of – the official homepage of the Toledo Food Truck Association. Now everyone can find out exactly where their favorite food truck will be for the day. “We all get along. We have food truck meetings at Rosie’s. In other cities they tend to fight amongst themselves, and I didn’t want that to happen. So I started holding meetings last year, and now we have the website,” says Barone.