Springfield food scene boosted by small business owners with vision

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Resurgence in locally owned dining options is part of momentum building throughout city.

Springfield has witnessed a resurgence in locally owned restaurants, with several business leaders making moves during the pandemic and amidst supply chain issues, with others expecting to roll out new locations in the coming months.

Several small business-led eateries have opened in the city since the pandemic’s start. Owners of the restaurants, including Troy and Nina Wheat of All Seasons Restaurant and Catering, credit their growth to community support.

That and a little bit of faith.

“We had so many people who supported our vision, and they wanted to be a part of it,” said Nina Wheat as she was assembling a fruit salad for a catering event on Thursday. “We love what we do, and it’s not just a job to us.”

The couple moved into their 1928 Mitchell Blvd. location at the end of 2020, amidst pandemic uncertainty for small businesses everywhere.

Since then, the restaurant and catering business has only seen growth, primarily through word-of-mouth marketing. Nina Wheat said time invested in their business splits 60-40 between catering and operating the restaurant space.

Customers of Springfield-area food stops are also noticing the change. The newspaper asked members of the popular Facebook group Clark County Food Fiends for their takes on the growth of the city’s local dining scene.

Nick Mastick moved to Springfield 7 years ago and felt “disheartened” by the smaller stock of independently owned restaurants and a lack of diversity in food options.

“So much deep-fried sameness,” he said.

Since then, he said things have changed dramatically, pointing to restaurants such as Guerra’s Crazy Taco, Speakeasy Ramen, Sushi Hikari Moe and more.

Diane Van Auker said she believes the local growth of restaurants reflects an overall renewal of the city.

“We are a vital and growing community with tremendous assets, and among them are restaurants with creative and talented chefs,” she said.

More will come

Greater Springfield Partnership CEO Mike McDorman echoed this, saying the resurgence in locally owned dining options is part of the “building momentum” in the city.

“We are certainly seeing an uptick in those opportunities in our community, and we’re going to see more,” McDorman said. “We are continuing to bring jobs. Our companies that are here are doing very well and expanding, and that will continue to bring opportunities for development to small businesses, retail restaurants and other opportunities to occur.”

McDorman said the addition of small businesses benefits the community as a whole, but also other business spaces in the city.

“When we see success in one place, it raises everyone up… everything is connected,” he said. “These are exciting times to live in Springfield,” he said.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Tracy Shirk, a lifelong Springfield resident and local restaurateur, said she thinks the best is yet to come for the city, but she and her husband Shane also want to nod to a business of the city’s past in their new restaurant, expected to open this spring.

The Shirks own Pit Stop drive-thru at 1815 Columbus Ave. Their business will be expanding with the addition of a pizza and sub shop the couple have been planning and preparing for months.

The business will host a grand opening car cruise-in at their location on April 1 from noon to 4 p.m. to unveil their dine-in and take-out pizza and sub restaurant.

The drive-thru was formerly Gibson’s carry-out, but the previous business owner sold the building due to illness.

Tracy Shirk said she has fond warm memories of going to the previous owner’s shop near Warder Park as a child to buy candy and other sweet treats.

The Shirks’ drive-thru opened last summer, and since then Tracy said seeing people come in to gather snacks for the day has brought her joy.

“It’s like bringing back the old, but in our own way,” she said. “We’ve already seen a lot of people come in. It’s very exciting.”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Also this spring, a food truck that specializes in tacos will be moving into a brick-and-mortar restaurant location held by a food and fashion business that will be closing.

Dips Taco Food Truck will be moving to 1532 Mitchell Blvd. by May or June, business owners announced on the food truck’s Facebook page this week. They’ll be taking over the space from Pearl’s Passions, which opened in 2018.

No secrets

Supporting local eateries means other locally owned businesses can also see support, as money will likely continue to circulate in the county’s economy, according to Chad Druckenbroad, owner of Charlo’s Provisions and Eatery on South Fountain Avenue.

He opened his business, which features classic Americana comfort food and includes a marketspace, last summer as people began venturing out into their communities again post-COVID.

In its first few months, Charlo’s saw obstacles related to supply chain issues and the rising cost of ingredients and staples Druckenbroad purchased to craft meals and stock the dining area, but he said the community stuck with his business, with the restaurants growing in sales each month.

And Druckenbroad said he and other small business owners invest money back into the community. He supports local farmers during his workday and other businesses off-the-clock.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

As a chef who doesn’t shy away from competition, Druckenbroad said he welcomes other businesses to the dining scene. But as a person who has worked with food for years, he said he also respects the amount of time and effort that goes into starting and carrying on a restaurant.

“It’s so nice to see other local businesses with people who care about the community, their employees, the people who come in,” he said. “And really, we all do what we do because we love Springfield.”

Nina Wheat agreed. She said she and her husband consider cooking not only their passion, but also a way of showing others they care. They want to be a space where others can come and learn and have already shared guidance with people interested in starting their own business.

“People have been so good to us… we want others to be successful,” she said. “So we’re not holding on to any secrets here.”

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