A trio of mobile food vendors have opened new businesses this spring and are making a bet that meals like Japanese fried rice and green chili macaroni and cheese will help draw residents downtown for lunch.
Korge Mori and Larry Orndorff are running their mobile restaurants on the side while holding down full-time jobs as a Springfield firefighter and a nurse at the Ohio Masonic Home, respectively. For Louie and Amanda Ortega, their Painted Pepper food truck is a full-time job that also offers catering and other services in Clark and Greene counties.
All three businesses are run independently. But the owners of all three said instead of competing, they’re hoping to encourage each other and create another incentive for customers to gather downtown at locations like the National Road Commons Park, 50 W. Main St.
Mori already works full-time as a Springfield firefighter. But he recently opened Ramen Rickshaw, a food truck from which he serves heaping bowls of ramen, including homemade noodles and broth he makes from scratch. Part of his inspiration came from his three aunts, who each owned their own ramen noodle shops in Japan. Mori said he’s spent the last two years perfecting recipes like Japanese fried rice and chicken curried rice, along with his homemade broth.
Ramen Rickshaw is a way to make a little extra cash on his down time, Mori said. But he said he gets a bigger thrill knowing he’s able to introduce Springfield residents to a new food option they didn’t have before.
“Obviously, I’m in business to make money,” Mori said. “But more than that I just really like the idea that I get to make something for the people of Springfield.”
Even if the business breaks even, Mori said he’d continue operating the truck because he likes watching customers enjoy his food.
Orndorff also opened his Home City Hot Dogs cart this spring. A former cook in the U.S. Navy, he and his wife started out with an idea to sell authentic Russian recipes the couple learned while conducting missionary work overseas. While that’s still a possibility in the long-term, they eventually settled on hot dogs with toppings like homemade guacamole and sour cream.
“The more we started looking at hot dogs, we realized the possibilities are endless,” Orndorff said. “The more unique the toppings are, the more people take to them.”
Orndorff, who also works full-time at the Ohio Masonic Home, credits his wife Jennifer with developing most of the best recipes.
“My wife is an evil genius in the kitchen,” Orndorff said.
It was a coincidence the three businesses opened around the same time, Orndorff said. But because all three are starting their own business for the first time, they often work together and learn from each other.
“The great thing about the people we’re involved with at the moment, it’s almost a brotherhood,” Orndorff said. “We’re sending people to each other’s carts.”
Unlike the other two businesses, the Painted Pepper is a full-time job for Amanda and Louie Ortega. Louie Ortega has served as an executive chef at Dayton-area hotels, and the couple recently moved back to Springfield to be closer to Amanda Ortega’s family. The couple knew it would be a lot of work, but decided to take a risk and make their living from the food truck and by providing catering and other services.
For now, the food truck focuses on southwestern dishes like green chili mac and cheese and sweet red chili chicken wings. But Louie Ortega can prepare just about anything, Amanda Ortega said. The truck will be a regular vendor at the Springfield Farmer’s Market and uses locally produced ingredients as much as possible.
The couple decided to make Springfield their home base as a way to offer residents another option downtown that wasn’t already available. So far, they’ve received a good reception.
“I really think there are a lot of opportunities in Springfield, and people really seem excited so far,” Amanda Ortega said.