June 2, 2021
In 2013, TK Kelly packed his bags and said so long to sunny San Francisco. He was heading east to Fort Wayne to take a position at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. His knowledge of Fort Wayne stopped at the gates of the zoo.
From what Kelly was told, our beloved city is a “meat-and-potatoes” and “ma and pa” type of community. No sweat: he was planning to work here for a few years until his next relocation. After all, he has more than 25 years of experience as a professional in the food industry, transforming culinary cultures in places like Seattle, Memphis, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Minneapolis.
However, Fort Wayne changed his mind.
Something Special in the Fort
“I can remember purchasing my first Bravas’ Snoop Dog, hearing about a new farm to table restaurant opening, visiting the wonderful ballpark downtown, and talks of river development,” Kelly said about his first inklings of Fort Wayne. “That’s when I realized there is something special going on here.”
The impact was enough that Kelly quit his job at the zoo a few years later to focus on doing something for the community that he now calls home.
“Friends thought I was crazy at first, going from looking at the Pacific Ocean every day to being nestled in northeast Indiana,” he said. “It didn’t take long for them to realize they weren’t getting me out of Fort Wayne.”
What Kelly didn’t know at the time is that he would one day be responsible for bringing the first ever Food Truck Park to Fort Wayne.
The idea came into fruition early last year after visiting a food truck park in Oregon.
“There were people enjoying themselves, vendors, an array of food trucks, and I realized this has legs to it,” Kelly said.
He then noticed how successful food truck parks were doing in places such as Lakewood, Ohio; Greenville, S.C.; and Austin, Texas.
He pitched his idea at a Fort Wayne Soup event last month where the community listened to four different proposals and then voted on which one they believe benefits the community the most. Fort Wayne Soup is a nonprofit that hosts quarterly events that present “good ideas” for the community. Money is raised by ticket sales for the event and sponsorship.
Kelly’s park idea won over the voters and he took home the $1,000 prize. He took those earnings straight to an attorney to get the ball rolling.
Targeting the Southeast
Kelly’s plans to construct a park in southeast Fort Wayne that can be used all year round. That is big news for food truck owners who typically park their trucks for several months during the offseason. Such a park would allow them the opportunity to make revenue and impact the community during colder months.
The permanent structure will feature food trucks, a pavilion, a bar cart, a play area for kids, picnic seating, heater/fire pits, restrooms, and a vertical farming container.
“I want the park to be a destination point,” Kelly said. “Let’s say you are going to a Tin Caps Game or Electric Works. The park will be close enough to stop by before or after. Drive, walk, ride a scooter, or whatever it may be.”
The park will be different from the food truck rallies we are accustomed to. According to Kelly, most people tend to spend 30 minutes at a rally. But at a park, they would spend an hour and a half to two hours.
Not only are folks spending more time listening to music, eating, and throwing back a cold one, but the vendors are making money. It is the old retail concept: Spend more time, spend more money.
Starting Next Year
The park will open in three different phases, the first being in May 2022. It will start with six trucks, and by phase three, 10 trucks. There will be various lease levels offered to each truck: One week, one month, and so on.
Kelly is closemouthed about the exact location of the park since he is currently negotiating with the landowner. But expect a location and park name to be announced soon.
“This park will provide more than just a food truck park,” he said. “We will provide opportunities to entrepreneurs and local residents that will ultimately help revitalize the south side of Fort Wayne. This is my ‘why.’ It’s what’s kept me here. It’s in my DNA to make a difference.”
Food trucks are the new incubators for culinary innovation. Whether it be catering to particular groups, events, and festivals, or hanging out at late-night eateries waiting for people to exit the bars, the new food truck park will broaden the horizon for this niche.
Having a wide variety of cuisine, offering a place where folks can engage in conversation, providing opportunity to network with other businesses, and creating more revenue for entrepreneurs, the park will provide a sense of community to remain for a long time.
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