Cleveland, OH: Suburban Browns Fans Find that Food Trucks Not Just for Summers in the City
By Peter Krouse | Cleveland.com
The Cleveland food truck scene is largely a downtown, summer thing, but maybe not for long.
A desire to expand its appeal to the suburbs, and to other seasons, prompted a handful of food truck operators to circle their wagons in an Independence parking lot during Sunday’s Cleveland Browns game.
The food trucks provided the chow, and the adjacent Mavis Winkle’s pub provided a warm place to watch the game — and of course, beer and other drinks.
“What are Clevelanders crazy about? Good food and the Browns,” proclaimed Sal Caruso, Mavis Winkle’s mobile operations specialist. “So it’s a great opportunity to just do something different.”
Caruso took orders inside the Mavis Winkle’s Paddy Wagon, which was among six other food trucks that cordoned off a section of the parking lot directly in front of the pub, which is normally closed on Sundays.
It wasn’t a muni-lot affair, not even close. It was cold, but people weren’t crazy. Plenty of people wore Browns shirts, but nobody stripped naked.
And the food was as much of a hit as Travis Benjamin’s second quarter punt return.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Mike Guzzo, 35, of Euclid as he headed toward the food trucks at halftime with his girlfriend Kelly King, 37, of Scranton, Pa.
Guzzo had already downed two chili dogs and macaroni and cheese from Mavis Winkle’s Paddy Wagon. Now he was on the hunt for an empanada from the FiredUpTacoTruck.
The contingent of trucks, which also included StrEAT Mobile Bistro, Zydeco Bistro, Cleveland BBQ Company, DonutLab and Sweet! The Mobile Cupcakery are all part of an unofficial organization called Food Truck Operators Cleveland.
The “Touchdown Chowdown” as the event was dubbed, grew out of the group’s collaboration with marketing specialist Angie Hetrick, whom they hired to find new markets for the winter months.
Hetrick said she used Facebook, the restaurant-review site Yelp and other media to promote the event. And while organizers would have hoped for more people to show up — the crowd reached about 200 to 250 early on — they still felt good about the turnout.
“Being a food truck, we don’t always gauge things on today’s results,” said Izzy Schachner, owner of StrEAT Mobile Bistro and the group’s leader, but on how the exposure can be parlayed into future success.
Tom Strunk, 43, and his wife, Janna, 37, of Willowick, who have been enjoying the food truck phenomenon for the past several months, were among the early-birds Sunday, arriving at Mavis Winkle’s at 11 a.m. to get a prime seat to watch the game on the big screen.
Tom Strunk, 43, said he probably would have just eaten some wings had he stayed home to watch the game. Instead, he loaded up on Cajun fair before the game and cheese fries and a taco just before halftime.
“Umm, looks good,” he said around 11:30 a.m., gripping a steaming container of sauce-covered hush puppies in one hand and a Zydeco Bistro specialty called Crawfish Monica in the other.
An expected halftime rush for the food trucks didn’t materialize, but Dave Southerington, owner of Sweet! The Mobile Cupcakery, still seemed optimistic that the day would end well.
His cupcakes are the dessert that complements the other foods, he said, and people like to get them to go.
“So, they’ll get them as they’re heading into their cars,” he said. “Take them home to their family.”
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