December 18, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria officials defend downtown food truck

The Krav food truck offers lunch Thursday in downtown Elyria. The mobile vending truck was parked outside City Hall in the shadow of Donna's Diner. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

The Krav food truck offers lunch Thursday in downtown Elyria. The mobile vending truck was parked outside City Hall in the shadow of Donna’s Diner. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — A chef on wheels rolls to a location and serves food from a mobile kitchen.

The food truck craze has hit Elyria.

For the second Thursday this month, Todd Berry set up in downtown Elyria with his Krav food truck to serve up one of five signature dishes to an eager lunch crowd. On this particular day, a spot near Elyria City Hall was the locale of choice. The menu consisted of a popular Korean barbeque pork loin with a kimchi Asian slaw and smashed avocados.

The prepared-fresh meal stood up well against the others — a Philly cheese steak, lamb or chicken gyro, veggie pita and grilled barbeque chicken thighs.

“It’s a good menu of flavorful food that we can prepare right here on the truck,” Berry said in between quickly assembling meals for a growing crowd of customers. “We have to do everything on the truck, prep and cook on the truck.”

Brick and mortar restaurants don’t have the luxury of picking up and relocating to where the business is best — Berry works in Lorain, Avon, Avon Lake and Vermilion.

Watching customers line the street a stone’s throw from where she has served food for years was a hard pill to swallow for Donna Dove, owner of Donna’s Diner.

“I don’t know why they would do that when we are having a hard time as it is,” she said. “If they were to move in every day, it would be one thing. It would be a constant draw to downtown that helps everyone. But once a week just brings people in, takes their money and then they leave.”

Dove said there was a noticeable difference in her Thursday sales, especially lunch deliveries. But instead of protesting, she said she plans to fight back.

“If they want to park their truck, then I will get my grill out,” she said. “Once people have my $5 roast beef sandwich with peppers and onions, they will want to know why they have never had it before.”

Berry, who operates the food truck with his partner, Kathy Swearingen, said he never wants to be seen as competition for established restaurants.

“We try not to step on anyone’s toes,” Berry said. “We give people an alternative. We bring something different into an area.”

Elyria may be a little late to the food truck trend, but the mobile eateries are so commonplace in larger urban areas that entire events are designed with the idea of numerous food trucks parking nearby.

In just a few weeks, Walnut Wednesday will return to downtown Cleveland. Sponsored by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, the lunch-time event is all about live music from local bands and delicious food from numerous food trucks.

Maybe, Thursdays in Ely Square — when the Summer Concert Series kicks off weekly musical acts — could be that event for Elyria.

“They have a permit to be here all summer, one day a week,” said Elyria Safety Service Director Mary Siwierka.

Siwierka and Mayor Holly Brinda let the aroma of the food truck bring them to Court Street for lunch. Both walked away with veggie pitas for $7 each.

Brinda said local restaurants shouldn’t feel threatened by the food truck.

“I think it will help with what is already here,” she said. “It’s one day a week and for special evening and weekend events when other places are not open. We want to be able to provide food options for residents during those times when they are downtown enjoying events.”

Just as every restaurant has a story of its birth, the Krav food truck has a story as well.

Berry, of Avon Lake, said the idea was born out of corporate boredom. He got tired of being stuck inside all day, came home and told Swearingen he wanted to open up a food truck.

“I said yes. I didn’t even hesitate,” she said.

The truck, decorated with a scene from the French Riviera, was driven up from Fort Lauderdale. The couple is in their third season.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.