Food truck competition exceeds expectations

Frank Everhart is a magician from Key West, Fla., on a tour of Ohio and Michigan. Saturday was his day off, and his feat was to make food disappear.

He found the perfect stage at the second Springfield Rotary Gourmet Food Truck Competition at Veteran’s Park.

The fundraising event gathered 40 mobile food vendors and featured a virtually limitless menu with dishes you don’t get every day — crab cakes, ethnic foods, bacon cupcakes — along with everyday foods with interesting twists.

Everhart timed his trip to coincide with the event at the suggestion of friend Marissa O’Neill.

“I’m brand new to this,” said Everhart. “I’m ready for some comfort food and a place to cool off.”

O’Neill, a local business owner, attended last year’s first food truck event and made it a point to return.

“People have been talking about it all year,” she said. “I tried so many different things, ate too much, took home as much as I could last year.”

Listening to feedback from the first event, Springfield Rotarians immediately went to work to improve the experience for attendees.

This started with alleviating the crowd congestion by lining the trucks on one side of the park to allow the lines to flow better.

They also added wider beverages choices, entertainment and more parking.

Shirley Randenburg of Springfield noticed the difference and didn’t mind waiting a half hour to get a gourmet cherry waffle desert after a main course of mac-and-cheese bites.

“The setup is much better, it’s not as congested,” she said.

Randenburg, who was with her granddaughter, Amanda, and her friend, said she’d gladly make this an annual stop.

About half of the food vendors returned from last year, including Brian Reed, owner of Mojo Tago of Powell, Ohio, which won this year’s $10,000 grand prize as selected by a panel of local judges.

It won on the strength of its beef short rib Korean barbecue taco. Mojo Tago was runner-up at last year’s competition.

Reed said he’s selective about what events he goes to and the Rotary competition was a definite on his schedule.

“This is by far the best run event I’ve gone to,” he said. “It’s super well-organized. So many of these are cost prohibitive and when you make things fresh from scratch you don’t want to waste food. We’ll do this as long as they have them.”

Reed said he picked up local produce for his products at Springfield’s Clark’s Farm Market.

A television crew from Food Network Canada followed Mojo Tago and interviewed several judges and attendees for a spinoff of the series “Food Factory” to air on the FYI Network next year.

Runner-up went to Bones’ Burgers from Loveland, Ohio. Several local chefs and restaurant owners judged the competition.

Twelve anonymous judges chose winners for the Best Truck and Cart Design (Marty’s Waffles), Best Customer Service (Texas Joe Tex Mex) and Best Menu (Hunger Paynes), which received $1,000 each.

Rotarian Plato Pavlatos said the event surpassed expectations.

“One of the best comments we received from a vendor was ‘you guys know how to do this right.’ ”

Pavlatos said the attendance was expected to surpass last year’s 17,000, and this would continue as Rotary’s fund-raising signature event.

Proceeds help with Rotary’s numerous charitable causes such as its Dream Soccer program, Christmas party for children and its ongoing work in the African nation of Lesotho.

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