Nearly two years after making its debut in center city, Route 66 Food Truck Park is for sale.
Property owner and park developer Kirk Wheeler plans to exit the 1530 St. Louis St. business, which includes capacity for 10 food trucks, an 1,800-square-foot indoor dining space and bar, as well as an outdoor beer garden. Wheeler said he turns 66 in June and is ready to move on.
“I’m going to retire. It’s just time to slow down,” he said, noting a $500,000 asking price for the business and property.
The buyer also would acquire much of the Route 66-themed memorabilia at the park, including “Carl,” the 25-foot-tall, 800-pound fiberglass chef holding a spatula and meat fork that fronts the property. Wheeler said Carl was part of a $650,000 investment he made in the venture, which included $300,000 spent on the land.
“I’m going to look hard for a buyer that will carry it on as what it is, a main stop on Route 66 through Missouri and a food truck park,” he said. “My hopes are to get a buyer that will be passionate about the history of Route 66 in Missouri like I am.”
The food truck park owner is also selling his other two businesses, Wheeler Work Trucks and Mother Road Motorcycles. Wheeler said the vehicle ventures share space near the park at 1610 St. Louis St. and are in the process of being sold in-house. He declined to disclose the employees who will take over later this year, as the deal is still being negotiated.
“I don’t have a date picked yet that I’ll clock out for good,” he said.
Route 66 Food Truck Park launched in February 2020 with seven mobile eateries open in its first week of business, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. Wheeler said he was very happy with the initial response from the public, but the success was brief as the coronavirus pandemic emerged shortly thereafter. While declining to disclose revenue, he said the loss of Route 66 travelers amid the pandemic was a hardship for the park.
Springfield is dubbed the birthplace of Route 66, which spans eight states, running over 2,400 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. A 2012 study from Rutgers University calculated $262 million in annual benefits from direct spending, wealth creation and public tax revenues associated with the Mother Road.
“I never got a chance to see what it could do,” he said. “We only had the bar open for less than two weeks before we had to lock it up because of COVID. Timing was pretty bad. Of course, the pandemic shut down just about all of Route 66 travel.”
As leisure travel slowly returns, Wheeler expects the park’s next owner will benefit.
“There’s a lot different times coming from what I had to deal with,” he said.
The park’s food truck lineup is sparse this winter, as Billy Bob’s Barbecue and La Chiva Colombiana are currently the lone tenants. However, Wheeler said he has verbal commitments from several other food trucks for the spring. He declined to disclose their names.
On the city’s west side, Metro Eats, an 11-acre development that includes a multiday farmers market, food trucks and event space, is planning for a busier 2022 after a quiet debut last year.
Metro Eats, which is the only other food truck park in Springfield, is co-owned by Christina Shellhart and wife Amy and sits on land west of Red’s Giant Hamburg restaurant near the Sunshine Street and Kansas Expressway intersection. The property is owned by Tony Still of Still Investment Co. LLC, according to past SBJ reporting. Shellhart declined to disclose the couple’s investment or lease terms with Still.
The concept launched in June 2021 with just the farmers market component. Shellhart said roughly 20 vendors operated at the market last summer before it ended the year with around 10.
“There wasn’t a great big turnout for vendors or guests, but we knew that was possible,” she said. “We were just getting our feet wet, and some vendors were brand new and had some products they wanted to sell. We didn’t have frontage or electric, so we were limited, but we were there.”
The farmers market was halted in December as work on a roughly 10,000-square-foot building is ongoing. Shellhart said the facility will house some farmers market vendors, allowing for year-round sales, as well as a food hall and event space. Additionally, an acre on the northwest portion of the property also is available for event space or overflow parking. Event catering will be handled by Ozark Premier Food Co., she said.
Metro Eats plans to resume operations in two months, with Shellhart pointing to a four-day opening celebration, March 17-20. She said details for the event will be finalized in the coming weeks. Applications for the farmers market are being accepted, with room to hold up to 100 vendors. She said 60 are signed on with first-year dues set at $300.
No revenue was earned last year as the owners decided to move collection of dues to 2022, when Metro Eats could have a larger opening.
“We just didn’t get it off the ground the way we felt we should,” Shellhart said. “I appreciate everybody’s patience in coming along with me and waiting, so I rolled over all of those dues that had paid for last year.”
She said this year’s plans call for seven food trucks on site and six restaurant vendors inside the food hall, which will offer daily service. Davalon, KeenBean Coffee Roasters, Rollin’ Smoke BBQ and Elorine’s Jamaican Kitchen are among those on board.
The number of those investing in food truck businesses is growing nationally. There are roughly 35,500 food trucks operating across the country this year, a 13.7% increase from 2021, according to data from research firm IBISWorld.
As Metro Eats looks to build business this year, Wheeler said he still believes a food truck park can work where his is established in an area of Route 66 that runs between Glenstone and National avenues.
Route 66 Food Truck Park isn’t the only mobile eatery to have launched in the area. Less than a mile away at the intersection of Glenstone Avenue and Chestnut Expressway, SGF Mobile Food Park, which opened in 2014, shuttered in 2019 after the last of its tenants moved to Route 66 Food Truck Park.
“It’s a great and fun concept that pays tribute to the history of Route 66 through Missouri,” Wheeler said. “If I was 36 instead of 66, I’d be doing it myself.”
Upon retirement, Wheeler plans to devote some time working on his classic car collection.
“Between traveling and the cars, that should keep me as busy as I want to be,” he said.
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