It’s a Food Cart World
By Kimberly StolzPublished August 1, 2012
Every now and again, while working on a story, it can feel like you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole into a whole new world. That was my feeling recently while visiting All a Cart Manufacturing out on the East Side. Here is where food trucks, carts, trailers, and kiosks are born – it’s where they are constructed, modified, painted and tuned up. Located in the old Tomasco plant, where up until a handful of years ago car parts were churned out in the 1000s, the sprawling joint is a structural tour through the life of owner Jeff Morris.
In one of the lobbies – I say one because the building sprawls over 225,000 square feet – is the 1938 Buick he drove to Woodstock. Buffed, polished and showered with TLC, the curvy black auto also brought Morris to Columbus in 1972. Taking to the road form his home state of New Jersey, Morris stopped in Columbus to visit a guitarist buddy. The two decided to take in the sights of the Oval. Not surprisingly the sights included two lovely women, one of which became Morris’ wife, ending his road trip smack in the middle of Ohio. Showing off his 42-year-old peace-symbol wedding ring, Morris said, “I’m just an old hippie.”
The young hippie kick started the wheels of entrepreneurship in the early ‘70s with Morris the Florist, selling a dozen roses for six bucks. His success was due in part to a catchy jingle sung to the tune of Hava Nagila. Morris gamely sings a snippet: Morrrrrrris the Florist, Morrrrrrris …” His success got him noticed by Kroger, who contacted him to create florist kiosks in their shops and it was for that gig that Morris created a refrigerated cart. “I had people say, ‘Hey, can you build me a cart for hot dogs? For pizza?’” he recalled. Thus, in 1972, All a Cart was born. Fast forward to 2012 and he talks of the truck he just sent to Nigeria.
“I ship all over the world,” he said. “That truck for Nigeria, it’s the prototype for an order of 100.”
To get to the food truck section of the operation, we walk by a large room – the former cafeteria – that has band gear set up in the middle: drums, mic, speaker stack, the whole shebang. This part of the complex celebrates Morris’s love of music and his own side gig rockin’ the keyboards with local blues bands Redhouse and Mojo Theory. “This will be the muscians’ entrance,” he said, pointing to a set of glass doors. “We will have hourly rental for rehearsal space and instruction and that building out there – it used to be the locker room where the Tomasco workers changed into their uniforms – that will be two recording studios.”
Morris took over the Tomasco real estate after it had been vacant for a year, necessitating new floors because of flood damage as well as new plumbing in the two sets of bathrooms because of copper vandal damage. Walking over the new tile leads us to a huge room, filled with classic cars that represent another Morris operation. It’s like being on the set of American Graffiti, with Morris as George Lucas, directing the restoration of America’s road past.
In this high-ceilinged, dark, garage area, a Local Matters Greener Grocer van is being fitted with refrigeration elements to keep the vegetables – and humans – cool during the hot days of summer. ‘Round another corner, through a room the size of an airport hangar with a two-story pit gaping its scary depth, I spy Easton’s Veggie Valet getting a look over. A shiny metal truck, being built for Cedar Point, features a self-serve coffee area at the front, while to the left, another skeleton of a truck sits, waiting to made over for use by Schmidt’s. Local favorites that All a Cart has worked on include Ajumama and Pitabilities. Morris is particularly happy to have worked on Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams’ cart.
“My mom’s family had a dairy farm in Pennsylvania,” he said. “So, I like anything that has to do with ice cream.”
A tricked out food truck can easily cost $70,000 – $200,000. Morris explained that quite a few people start with a cart, which can price at $5,000, and then save up for four wheels. Right now, there is a lot of interest in the hybrid models that start around $60,000, including the model in the room that is being created for a vendor in Portland, complete with built-in rice cooker and panini grill. As we continue, he points out different vehicles in various stages of completion.
“That one is going to Richmond,” he said. “That one is going to Atlanta.”
In addition to all of this, there is a commissary area for cart owners to use, and storage areas for vendors to lay up their vehicles. And then there is the acreage outside that has been leased to grow soybeans and the baseball field and the eight-bedroom home and the other 10,000-square-foot building … seriously, a whole universe off Refugee Road, with Joe Morris as its sun.
It turns out Columbus is not only a thriving epicenter of mobile food vendors, but also for mobile food vehicle creation.
To celebrate the new facility, All a Cart Manufacturing is throwing a grand opening party on Saturday, August 18th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be food trucks on site, as well as the opportunity to bring canned food donations for Mid-Ohio Food Bank. For information about All A Cart, visit www.allacart.com.