The Central Ohio Food Truck Association is counterprogramming these days: When customers don’t visit vendors, vendors visit customers.
In response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, a statewide stay-at-home order issued by Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton and announced by Gov. Mike DeWine on March 22 went into effect at 11:59 p.m. March 23. Many central Ohio residents are doing precisely that -- staying at home.
With the association’s newly established Neighborhood Pickup program, the food trucks are being deployed to certain Columbus neighborhoods with high pedestrian traffic in hopes of providing food to the hungry faithful, said Zach James, association president.
“That’s the blessing and curse of being in a food truck: One, you’re never in the same spot, so it’s not always easy for people to find you,” James said. “You don’t have a place to sit down. The good circumstance with this – you can go where the business goes.”
With so many businesses closed and fewer people out and about, food-truck owners have found their companies suffering in the sudden downturn in business, he said.
Food trucks through the current program can be found at such locations as River House, 891 Ingleside Ave.; Taylor House, 5001 Olentangy River Road; Spectrum, 1015 Olentangy River Road; Berkley House, 5300 Riverside Drive; University District, 1934 N. Fourth St.; Rich & River building, 401 W. RIch St.; the Highlander, 2320 Sawmill Place; and the Warehouse - Xenos Christian Fellowship, 600 Oakland Park Ave.
All have online ordering available, James said.
He said he’s working to add locations in German Village, Merion Village and other neighborhoods.
As of March 24, 25 of the 100 food trucks that are part of the association have signed up for the program, he said.
All sites, he said, have two daily shifts: lunch (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and dinner (4 to 7 p.m.).
A $5-per-shift fee is being donated to LifeCare Alliance, which provides essential services to thousands of seniors and people with medical challenges or disabilities throughout central Ohio, according to the group’s website.
SmokeOut BBQ will hit the evening shift March 30 at Taylor House, owner Derek Johnson said.
Johnson said the situation for operators has been getting worse, as many relied on serving large office buildings that are sitting empty for the time being.
“It’s been rough,” Johnson said. “I’ve had five weddings cancel and multiple catering orders of over 100 people” – 100 being the limit on the number of people who were permitted to congregate in one place after the first coronavirus-related state order but prior to the stay-at-home order.
Johnson said he’s somewhat optimistic the Neighborhood Pickup program will offer neighbors variety and convenience and give food trucks the boost they desperately need right now.
“I think the longer (the stay-at-home order) goes, the longer we’re locked down, the better it will be,” he said.
On a sunny day March 25, customers stood five deep waiting for their food at Taquito Truck, which was parked at the Berkley House, 5300 Riverside Drive.
Jessica Anderson, who lives at the apartment complex, was standing in line, waiting for a burrito, queso and chips.
She said she’s upbeat about the association’s latest initiative to send trucks to the suburbs.
“I think it’s awesome,” Anderson said. “We love it here at Berkley House.”
Tomeo Aoki, who also lives at Berkley House, said it’s nice to have a street-food option right outside her door.
“I used to live in Japan,” she said. “It’s easy; all you have to do is walk out of the door, and there are all of these food choices in Japan.”
Tiffany Ruiz, who owns two Taquito Trucks with her husband, Abi, said broadening the food trucks’ borders is a good thing.
“This is the new normal, I’ve been saying,” she said. “This is nice because last, week we had nowhere to go.
Go to streetfoodfinder.com for a schedule.
The Central Ohio Food Truck Association was established in 2012 as the industry association for food trucks.
Columbus Food Truck Festival still on for August
The 10th annual Columbus Food Truck Festival remains scheduled for Aug. 14 and 15, according to the festival website: columbusfoodtruckfest.com.
A message posted on the site reads in part, "Based on the latest information and the considerable amount of time to assess and respond to developments between now and August, we are planning to proceed with the Columbus Food Truck Festival as planned."
It continued: "As the current situation further develops, we will make adjustments accordingly. To put your mind at ease, in the event that the event is cancelled, we will refund ticket buyers, vendors and artisans. Please follow our Facebook page for the latest updates."