The Wheel Deal
With new kitchens open this month, Food Fort is helping more mobile chefs hit the streets
PHOTOS BY JODI MILLER
Columbus is ravenous for food trucks. So Food Fort has made it its mission to get more mobile restaurateurs on the streets.
The local group rents out its fleet of five food carts and advises aspiring entrepreneurs on how to secure loans and permits, as well as giving them 24/7 access to a giant commissary at the Economic and Community Development Institute on the East Side.
This month, Food Fort is opening two full-size kitchens, a massive walk-in cooler and a bakery space. When they’re completed, the kitchen and cooler will be available to rent for budding caterers and bakers or those with large orders to fill, thus expanding Food Fort’s reach to stationary businesses.
The timing worked out perfectly, too—all of Food Fort’s carts are currently rented out for the season. The group also secured a deal with North Market’s Greener Grocer, which will visit Food Fort’s kitchens a few times a week and sell fresh produce directly to vendors.
But for mobile chefs, it’s also about community. Laura Lee, who recently launched her Korean street-food truck Ajumama with the help of Food Fort, first came to the facility in November after relocating from San Diego. Before long, she had a truck and a permit and could focus on perfecting her recipe for hodduk, a griddle cake stuffed with brown sugar and walnuts.
“These guys here have it together,” Lee says. “They’re amazing. It really takes the pressure off.”
She also turned to Jim Pashovich, currently of the pita sandwich truck Pitabilities and a veteran of more than 25 years on the Columbus food cart scene, for advice and troubleshooting. Pashovich has become the de-facto godfather of Food Fort, helping to fix broken electrical hookups or suggesting good lunch locations to truck owners who would be competitors in any other city.
That’s just how Columbus is, he says. People here want to help each other grow.
“With Food Fort, we’re just building that kind of culture within the mobile food business,” Pashovich says. “There’s an incredible mobile food scene being created here in Columbus.”