The food trucks are coming! Walnut Hills to host second Cincinnati Street Food Festival

CINCINNATI -- Walnut Hills used to be known as “the city’s second downtown,” said Kevin Wright, executive director of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation.

The Peebles Corner Business District at the intersection of East McMillan Street and Gilbert Avenue was on the Cincinnati streetcar route and featured a grocer, two theaters and other businesses. The district drew visitors to Walnut Hills from other parts of the city.

Wright and other members of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation hope the second annual Cincinnati Street Food Festival on Saturday, Oct. 12 will show people from around Cincinnati that the community is on the move once again.

Many local  businesses closed between the 1930s and 1950s, and transportation changed. East McMillan Street and Gilbert Avenue remained heavily traveled, but Walnut Hills became a neighborhood traffic passed through on the way to other destinations, Wright said.

“Our approach is to slow traffic down, to open it up to different types of transportation,” he said.

Good, clean food

The festival is a free event on East McMillan Street between Hemlock and Chatham Streets in Walnut Hills, featuring 17 local food trucks, including Café de Wheels, Fireside Pizza Wagon, Red Sesame and C’est Cheese.

Food trucks are popular in many other large cities, but until 2012 few existed in Cincinnati, said Elizabeth Romero, who co-owns SugarSnap! Truck with business partner Kristy Crouse.

“This is a trend that is just starting to explode in Cincinnati,” Romero said.

SugarSnap! Truck, which offers an assortment of cupcakes, brownies and other sweet treats, was one of about 10 food trucks at the 2012 Cincinnati Street Food Festival.

With the popularity of last year’s event and the creation of the Cincinnati Food Truck Association in February, the number of participants increased.

Romero attributes the rising popularity of food trucks partially to media coverage. Reality television shows like The Great Food Truck Race have recently put a spotlight on street food.

Although food trucks benefit from media coverage, vendors also contribute to the trend by show they can offer good, clean food, Romero said. Vendors also must prove their worth by offering something unique.

“You definitely have to have something special to have a food truck,” Romero said.

Support for food truck owners

Fast service, low prices and local ownership add to the appeal, said Emily Frank, owner of grilled cheese food truck C’est Cheese and president of the Cincinnati Food Truck Association.

“I think people take pride in supporting a local business,” she said.

“As we get more food trucks, there’s a lot more interest in it.”

As the number of food trucks increases, the street food trend will continue to gain popularity, said Jason Perkins, owner of Eat! Mobile Dining.

In the past eight months, Cincinnati Food Truck Association membership has increased from five to 25, Romero said.

As president, Frank does not book events for members but acts as a liaison for food truck owners. Frank and other association leaders help educate event planners and the public about food trucks, offering guidance and connecting event organizers with vendors.

Association members are working to create a website, but for now they stay connected through their Facebook page, Frank said.

Family fun

In addition to various food offerings, the Cincinnati Street Food Festival will feature craft beers from Mt. Carmel Brewing Company, live music and activities for children.

“Last year we saw a huge turnout from families,” Wright said.

This year, Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation members aim to make the festival more interactive and family-friendly. Children can enjoy circus games and stilt walkers from The Cincinnati Circus Company as well as arts and crafts activities provided by The Art Spark.

Cincinnati bands and musicians--three of whom are Walnut Hills residents--will perform a mix of music ranging from folk, jazz, blues, R&B and pop.

“The music last year was a real driver of making the event diverse,” Wright said.

The festival is intended to be representative of Walnut Hills, which has historically been “open to everyone” culturally and racially, he said.

Next page: Celebrating development, event details

Celebrating development

According to its website, the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation is a nonprofit community development corporation designed to promote development for the community.

“There’s a movement right now toward revitalizing urban communities,” Wright said.

Like any organization focused on economic development, members of the foundation face challenges, Wright said. Two of the biggest are the time and effort required to redevelop the area. Community members in Walnut Hills have the commitment required for these investments, though.

“We’ve raised a lot of money to put this (festival) on. The majority (of donations) are small donations from neighborhood businesses,” Wright said.

While it is taking more time to redevelop than some other parts of Cincinnati, there is more community ownership of the effort in Walnut Hills, he said. Because of this, the end result is more representative of the neighborhood.

“You’re literally experiencing the community, not some fake version of the community,” Wright said.

Despite the slow process behind it, the change is noticeable to residents.

Until last year, dilapidated buildings and backed-up traffic were a common sight in Walnut Hills, said resident Tim Caudill, who will perform folk and Americana music at the Cincinnati Street Food Festival.

In 2012, Cincinnati City Council members’ approval of a speed limit reduction and two-way traffic on East McMillan proved to be a turning point for the neighborhood, Caudill said.

“It made it more accessible to street and foot traffic and gave it more of a community feel,” he said.

While the neighborhood is still in transition, “it is going in the right direction,” he added 

This year, the festival celebrates development of an historic firehouse, which had been vacant for years, Wright said. The firehouse at 773 East McMillan Street will be turned into a restaurant.

If you go:

  • 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • East McMillan between Hemlock and Chatham Streets
  • Join the event on Facebook
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