The Big Idea: Food Fort

  • Photos by Tessa Berg
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From the April 12, 2012 edition

In case you haven’t noticed, food carts and trucks are all the rage. Food Fort helps those who want a piece of the pie.

“Essentially, we try to give our clients an edge,” director Steve Brady said. “We can’t make them successful, but we try to give them a foundation to help them get started, and if they need help, we’re here to help them out.”

A subsidiary of the nonprofit Economic Community Development Institute, Food Fort started last July with the goal of creating jobs in Columbus and becoming self-sustainable.

They’re off to a running start, serving as home base for a flourishing community of mobile vendors. For $250 a month, Food Fort helps its clients find locations, stay up to code and utilize social media. Vendors also have access to an array of services from ECDI including financial literacy classes and legal and accounting advice, and carts of various sizes are available for rent.

“Having them here as the support team and the advocacy ... has been completely a relief because I don’t have the expertise that they do,” said Laura Lee, who is launching her Ajumama food truck with Food Fort’s help later this month.

An in-house kitchen and bakery is under construction; caterers and bakers will soon be able to run their business there or rent the space to accommodate big orders.

Aside from the quantifiable services Food Fort offers, it also fosters a sense of camaraderie among would-be rivals.

“Everybody’s in this together,” Lee said.

3 cool projects under way at Food Fort

Pitabilities

After selling his Skyward Grille food cart business in 2004 and getting into real estate, Jim Pashovich never could shake his love for the food industry, so last year he bought an empty truck and built it into a mobile restaurant from the ground up. Food Fort helped Pitabilities find friendly, low-pressure locations to sort out its business model and evolve its build-your-own-pita concept.

Spinelli’s Deli Mobile Sammies

When Spinelli’s Deli shut down its Downtown location last summer to focus on going mobile, they rented one of Food Fort’s carts. Now they’ve tapped into a demand for sandwiches at private events and underserved areas like office parks. The Mobile Sammies cart offers five separate menus: deli, soup & salad, taco, dog & burger, and sunrise.

Ajumama

Dissatisfied with life as a sous chef in San Diego, Laura Lee heard about Food Fort and returned home to launch her dream business. Later this month, Lee’s Ajumama truck will begin selling authentic Korean street food at venues like St. James Tavern’s Mobile Mondays and Franklinton’s Dinin’ Hall, Franklinton’s new permanent outdoor food court.

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