The food truck scene has exploded in Columbus over the last couple years, and now it seems yet another mobile food trend −the food pod− is piggybacking on the trucks’ success.
What constitutes a food pod isn’t crystal clear at the moment, but Street Eats Columbus, which tracks and reviews mobile eateries, defines it as an established location (usually a parking lot) that serves as a hub for several food trucks on a semi-permanent or regular basis.
One such location is Zauber Brewing Co. at 1300 Norton Ave. near Grandview. The brewery’s founder, Geoff Towne, was looking to marry the old world beer garden concept with modern eats at reasonable prices, and a food pod seemed like just the ticket.
“We saw how successful the idea looked when visiting Los Angeles a couple years ago,” says Towne. “It was always part of our business plan, long before last year took off for food trucks in Columbus. The timing was perfect!”
Zauber’s food pod opened in mid-May and Towne says it has worked out well despite not being on a main drag.
The brewery typically hosts trucks on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and diners will find a variety of foods, from crepes and grilled cheese sandwiches to hamburgers and classic Italian dishes.
Variety is also the name of the game at Dinin’ Hall, located at 400 W. Rich St. in Franklinton.
Pizza, pierogi, deli sandwiches, and milkshakes made with seasonal ingredients are just some of the foods Dinin’ Hall patrons can expect.
Dinin’ Hall, which features indoor seating for 6o and a central payment system, opened in April. Next month, it will have partnerships with 16 vendors and applications from others keep rolling in.
Dinin’ Hall’s owner, Eliza Ho, launched the food pod because she wanted to make street food available year round.
“Right now, if the weather is bad, or in winter, it is very challenging for food trucks and carts to operate,” says Ho. “But with a space like what Dinin’ Hall provides, customers don’t need to worry about weather anymore.”
Perhaps the greatest perk for food pod vendors is a regular location where they can park and build their customer base, she says.
Dinin’ Hall in particular offers its vendors social media marketing (complete with photos of menu items and daily Facebook posts highlighting their specials for the day) and the ability to expand their services.
For instance, Dinin’ Hall customers can pre-order online and the facility has a designated line for phone orders.
“We also do delivery within a half-mile radius,” Ho says.
Additionally, Dinin’ Hall offers exclusive catering opportunities to its vendors.
During non-lunch hours, “many of our customers rent [the facility] for wedding banquets, special events, and professional meet-ups, and they want to have food trucks or carts to cater their events,” she says. “In those cases, Dinin’ Hall helps coordinate, lining up trucks and carts for those events.”
In the near future, Dinin’ Hall’s ethnic food vendors will work with local non-profits to boost their programming.
“For example, the Boys & Girls Club wants to take their summer program participants to Dinin’ Hall to try ethnic foods, and learn about the cuisines and cultures,” she says.
Bethia Woolf, founder of Street Eats Columbus and Columbus Food Adventures, suspects the food pod trend will continue to grow, though she is reluctant to say anything definite.
“Every city’s food truck scene evolves in a way that conforms to its own unique patterns of consumption and local political climate, and my sense is that the newness of the explosive growth of trucks in Columbus means that everyone is still in the midst of figuring it all out,” says Woolf. “Junior’s Tacos just lost their outdoor seating to city regulation, so it’s hard to say if and how pods could come under similar scrutiny.”