Q&A: Zach James of Paddy Wagon on the food trucks' expansion

Anthony Dominic, Crave

Since opening Paddy Wagon in the summer of 2010, Zach James has watched the Columbus food truck scene explode. Almost overnight, as the president of the Central Ohio Food Truck Association remembers it, trucks went from novelty to ubiquity.

Paddy Wagon has managed to stay ahead of the pack with its punny, law-enforcement shtick and beloved slow-roasted brisket. The truck has received national attention via Food Network's "Eat St." and last year began opening Jailhouse satellite kitchens, first with gourmet hot dogs at Little Rock Bar in Italian Village then with Appalachian dishes at Rambling House Soda in Old North this June. paddywagon.biz

How did the concept for Jailhouse Roots at Rambling House Soda come about?

I lived at Indianola and Hudson when Rambling House Soda was getting started. I saw John [Lynch, the owner] carrying in stuff one day. We started talking and one thing led to another. [Paddy Wagon] was serving there on the weekends, but it is tough to commit with the trucks because they're always getting pulled away for catering and festivals. After Jailhouse Rock got running [at Little Rock], John and [his wife] Jennifer came to me, like, "Are you looking to do something like that up here?" And I said, "Of course!"

The Jailhouse kitchens aren't just an extension of the truck. You're tailoring each outpost to its location.

That's kind of my creative side coming out. [The kitchen] has to become an organic facet of the bar. With Little Rock, we took on the aesthetic of the place. We wanted to do the same thing with Rambling House, being that it has this grassroots, Appalachian decor and that they're making really good sarsaparilla. I'm from the foothills of Southeastern Ohio, so it felt like I was coming back to my roots.

Who's handling the Roots menu?

Part of the inspiration came from the chef at our Little Rock location, Eddie Stoddard. He came right as Jailhouse Rock was opening and completely turned that menu upside down and made it its own thing.

Any favorite Roots dishes?

We wanted to do more small plates and shareables. We have boiled crawdads and corn cobs, and bloody mary relish with smoked oysters and celery. We're just really trying to bring in something familiar and palatable to lots of people with a unique twist. Rambling House is a chance to set the bar for ourselves.

We have to ask-where did the law enforcement puns come from?

I was a student at Ohio State before I was a food truck owner, and I'm very familiar with the Friday and Saturday night paddy wagon circling up and down High street. [Police officers] have been some of our biggest supporters. We offer a half-off discount to officers in uniform.

Can we expect more Jailhouse kitchens in the future?

I don't have any specific plan, but I would never rule out a good move. We just licensed our own commissary and have our own supply man so we can serve with the most consistency possible. My passion for the Paddy Wagon brand has always been offering a well-rounded experience-like walking into an outdoor restaurant.