MANSFIELD -- While hundreds have lined up for the visiting Chick-Fil-A food truck over the past month, the experience left a local food truck owner disappointed.
In early July, during one of Chick-Fil-A food truck’s first visits to Mansfield, customers wrapped around the Appleseed Shopping Center parking lot, while young entrepreneur Travis Moore sat along Park Avenue without any line outside his mobile business, Truckin Trav Street Food.
A Mansfield resident, Moore said he is hopeful the Chick-Fil-A food truck will help Richland County residents become more comfortable with food trucks.
Moore said he understands the notion of “testing” a location. He has done the same when moving his truck to various spots primarily in Richland County -- but he’s concerned national chain restaurant versions of food trucks could become a trend that would negatively impact locally owned businesses -- both those on and off wheels.
“Corporations have found a way to compete with us (food trucks). I never thought that would happen,” Moore said. “What if McDonalds did this? Or Five Guys? Their food is great.
“I’d be out of business.”
Food trucks require a significantly discounted investment compared to brick and mortar restaurants. According to a late 2018 Forbes report, a mobile food operation costs $55,000 to $75,000 to begin while a brick and mortar site would more likely require a $250,000 to $500,000 investment.
The same report explains 24 percent of food truck operators view their business as a way to stay ahead of trends and 31 percent see it as an opportunity to test a location.
Why did Chick-Fil-A’s food truck come to Mansfield?
Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker says the food truck contacted him with intentions to visit Mansfield weekly as part of a market study, which also included Wooster, Ashland and Medina.
The owner of the Strongsville Chick-fil-A, Brian Wellman, had applied for and received one of only six Chick-fil-A food trucks in the country.
“They wanted to see if we warranted a brick and mortar location,” Theaker said.
He says this is why he encouraged residents to patronize the Chick-fil-A food truck via a number of press releases highlighting its weekly locations.
"Chick-fil-A’s intent is to test various locations in our city over the next several months to see if there is enough business to permanently locate a facility here in Mansfield," Theaker said in one of his first announcements.
"There were only a handful of Chick-fil-A Food Trucks in the entire country, and we are pleased they have chosen Mansfield as a test site.”
In a conversation Thursday, Theaker elaborated.
“We didn't want Mansfield to lose out to a different community,” Theaker said. “We are always trying to bring new jobs and businesses to Mansfield, so we have to sell Mansfield.”
Just more than a month in, Theaker says, Mansfield’s response to the truck seems likely lead to further investment from Chick-Fil-A.
“They said Mansfield is at the top of their list. They'd like to come here and look at locations,” Theaker said. “It’s working.”
From Theaker’s understanding, the corporate office would review prospective owners, those who have applied to run a location and potentially “match” them with Mansfield, where they could open a brick and mortar restaurant.
Further, with or without his support, the Chick-Fil-A food truck could have set up in Mansfield. He said, as there's no ordinances that prohibit food trucks of any kind in Mansfield.
Mayoral candidates speak on local vs. chain food trucks
Theaker says he didn’t intend to upset local food truck owners like Moore by issuing press releases about Chick-Fil-A.
He mentioned visiting local food trucks at the Final Friday concerts and recognized the local trucks bring variety and have a positive impact on the local economy.
“I had no intention to slight other food trucks,” he said. “When I'm at an event, I try to patronize them.”
The intent of the press releases was solely to increase Mansfield’s chances of bringing a new brick and mortar restaurant to Mansfield, he said, which would also positively impact the local economy.
Current at-large councilman and mayoral candidate, Don Bryant, has also joined in the conversation about the Chick-Fil-A food truck on social media. When nearby Ashland’s Mayor Matt Miller announced the chain’s food truck would make weekly stops there, Bryant shared the Facebook post with his own commentary.
“Listen… City to city works. Democrat, Republican, Independent, blah, blah, blah. Let’s quit playing and bring business to Mansfield,” Bryant said in a June 25 Facebook post. “Elect a mayor who wants more for our awesome city.”
He later described “city to city” as taking ideas from conferences and other cities and implementing them locally. He said, this would likely involve bringing a business to tour potential locations, rather than promoting a food truck as a test run.
His next post about food trucks came a month later on July 25. He shared a press release about Truckin Trav Street Food’s location for July 26 and 28.
“Councilman Bryant is encouraging residents to continue patronizing and supporting local business. Supporting local business means supporting and boosting Mansfield’s local economy,” the press release said.
It went on to describe local food truck owner, Moore, as a Mansfield native who is “excited for the future of his food truck and the amazing food that he is proud to serve in Mansfield and beyond.”
Bryant encouraged other local entrepreneurs and food truck owners to contact him with their location, as his office is “happy to support local business.”
When asked Thursday what prompted that post, Bryant said many people were upset about the Chick-Fil-A truck coming to town.
"Some people loved it, but some were worried about this,” he said. “It’d be fine if Chick-Fil-A was a brick and mortar location, but it’s a food truck, and they don’t see it as fair competition.”
If presented with the same scenario as Theaker, Bryant believes he would have been more sensitive to the needs and concerns of local food trucks.
"I would have invited them (Chick-Fil-A) to see some available properties. Then, gauge their needs," he said. "We’re not in the business of turning away business, but we don’t want to take away from our local businesses either."
"I don’t understand why it’d have to be food truck," Bryant said.