Columbus' iconic Schmidt's Restaurant and Sausage Haus entered a new era of expansion last week when it began operating a food truck in Upper Arlington.
After launching "pilot" food truck programs in downtown Columbus and Clintonville, Schmidt's is now the first restaurant authorized to operate a mobile food vendor business on a recurring basis in UA.
Upper Arlington City Manager Ted Staton approved the authorization June 25 for Schmidt's to operate a food truck at the Sunoco gas station, 1800 W. Lane Ave., on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from July 11 through Sept. 1.
Andy Schmidt, president of Schmidt Hospitality Concepts, said the move represents a new philosophy for the family-owned business, which has operated in German Village in Columbus for 127 years: Rather than open new restaurants in traditional, permanent locations, Schmidt's is expanding through use of food trucks.
In addition to Columbus and Upper Arlington, the company is seeking to operate what it calls its Schmidt's Sausage Truck -- or SST -- in Cleveland and Columbus by the end of 2014, and it's looking to branch out to other Columbus-area markets, including Grandview.
"With this outbreak in the mobile food craze, we decided to open food trucks instead of restaurants," Schmidt said. "It's right in Schmidt's wheelhouse.
"We've been doing mobile, 'knock-down' tents for festivals for years. This is just an offshoot of that and an opportunity to grow our business in other cities."
Although food trucks have been allowed to do business in Upper Arlington for special events, including the Labor Day Arts Festival, the city has yet to open its doors to mobile food vendors operating on a regular basis.
According to Chad Gibson, senior planning officer for Upper Arlington, Schmidt's food truck is being viewed as a "test case" for the city as it seeks to balance the public's desire for access to mobile food vendors with the impact they might have on existing, permanent businesses.
Gibson said the city "wants to support existing, permanent businesses as much as possible," and hopes to prevent mobile food vendors from "cannibalizing" them.
"The city currently is studying the issue and determining if regulations are needed for food trucks," Gibson said. "We want to make sure we have rules in place to ensure it is fair for all.
"We've got to make sure it's safe. Is there enough parking? Is the food truck in a location that's an obvious determent to existing, permanent businesses?"
According to a staff report prepared by Gibson before Staton authorized the temporary permit, Columbus and Dublin have been "wrangling" with the issue of governing mobile food vendors in recent months and those cities' regulations are "still evolving."
Schmidt's received a violation letter from the city of Upper Arlington May 24 because at that point, it was operating a food truck in the city against regulations that require all businesses to be "conducted wholly within a completely enclosed building."
Now, the food truck will be able to operate legally in what Schmidt said was an attractive market for both personal and business reasons.
"I'm a UA native and I think food trucks in Upper Arlington would be incredible," he said. "It's an honor to be on the front end of what the city is doing."
Schmidt's Upper Arlington permit will allow its food truck to operate each Thursday, Friday and Saturday for a maximum of three hours per day during either lunch or dinner through Sept. 1.
Schmidt said the truck primarily will operate from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. However, he said it won't be in Upper Arlington every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and its hours might vary.
The hours when the truck will be serving food at the corner of West Lane Avenue and Northwest Boulevard will be available online at www.schmidthaus.com.
"We'll pick our dates," Schmidt said.
The Upper Arlington-based food truck will feature five Schmidt's sausages, and Schmidt said the restaurant will use it to introduce a new chicken sausage. Additionally, Schmidt's jumbo cream puffs, German potato salad, sauerkraut and red cabbage will be offered.