New dining options will soon be rolling in center city with the anticipated Feb. 1 opening of Route 66 Food Truck Park.
Property owner and park developer Kirk Wheeler said construction crews have been working the past several weeks at the 1530 St. Louis St. site. Nine food trucks have signed on, with the final spot yet to be determined.
“It’ll be really close, but that’s what we’re shooting for,” Wheeler said of hitting the launch date. “I’m real anxious to get it going. I’ve been mentally working on it for two and a half years, and I’m finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
A couple of the food trucks on board are The Wheelhouse and London Calling Pasty Co.
The park is adjacent to Wheeler Work Trucks and Mother Road Motorcycles, both owned by Wheeler. Including $300,000 he spent on buying the land, Wheeler estimated his total investment would come in at $650,000.
Aside from space for 10 mobile eateries, the food truck park features a renovated 1,800-square-foot building to seat 75 for indoor dining. Portions of the facility also will be dedicated to a Route 66-themed gift shop and a space dubbed the Super Sports Bar on the back side of the building. Wheeler said it’ll lead to an outdoor beer garden area.
He originally hoped the food truck park would make a fall debut but said getting the project organized took longer than expected.
As Springfield is dubbed the birthplace of Route 66, Wheeler said there weren’t enough dining options in the area of the Mother Road that runs between Glenstone and National avenues.
“I’m a huge fan of old cars and specifically old trucks. But I’m also a fan of Route 66 and the history of that highway,” he said, noting last year he completed an eight-state trip on the road from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. “I thought it would be fun to put this together and bring it to the city.”
Rio Contracting LLC is general contractor for the project, which is unlike any the Springfield-based company has tackled before, said President Tom Wood. Although weather has been a concern leading toward the construction finish line, he said crews are pushing to have the facility ready for the target date.
He said other food service projects the company has completed recently were First Watch restaurants in Joplin and Fayetteville, Arkansas, and infill for Bon Bon’s Candy House in Brentwood Center North.
“It’s sorely needed in Springfield to provide permanent sites for food trucks,” he said. “You have one stop to come and get several different food choices in one location.”
The lineup is a varied collection of cuisines – a calculated decision, Wheeler said. Set to join The Wheelhouse and London Calling on opening day are food trucks by Davalon, Branson City Diner, Classic Rock Coffee, The Olive Branch, Fat Tony’s Pizza, Rollin’ Smoke BBQ and Not’cho Ordinary Taco.
London Calling will exit SGF Mobile Food Park, 836 N. Glenstone Ave., upon opening at Wheeler’s new venture.
“I thought it would be healthier for everyone involved if we didn’t have multiples of food types on-site,” Wheeler said. “This will give each of them a segment of the food market.”
Davalon food truck owner Cody Davis said he’s refreshing his menu to an Asian street food concept. It’s a changeup from the largely Tex-Mex cuisine he served when opening over two years ago.
With 15 years of experience as a chef at Ocean Zen, Davis said he’s comfortable with Asian-fusion dishes. Menu options will include hibachi and teriyaki bowls, Korean and Japanese hot dogs, Korean pork sandwiches, pot stickers and edamame.
“I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve and some of them will be appearing as features and new menu items,” he said. “I’m just going to see what the public thinks about them before sticking them on the main menu.”
Davis has regularly shut down his food truck during the winter, but he’s eager to reopen next month. He’s been on board with the venture since 2018, noting he first heard about it at the annual MO Food Truck Fest, which brings over 20 food trucks to downtown Springfield for a day.
“I like the lure of it,” Davis said, noting he signed a one-year lease with Wheeler for an undisclosed rate. “It’s like having 10 little restaurants in one place.”
Wheeler said the food truck park also will feature some memorable photo opportunities. One is Wheeler’s own refurbished 1966 red Chevy pickup, nicknamed Ol’ Red, that made the Route 66 trek last year.
The other is decidedly larger.
Taking inspiration from his Route 66 trip, Wheeler said he’s having a 25-foot tall fiberglass-built character, referred to as a “muffler man,” installed by the sidewalk on St. Louis Street. According to Route66Guide.com, similar advertising characters that exist on Route 66 include replicas of Paul Bunyan, cowboys and astronauts.
Wheeler enlisted Virginia-based American Giants to construct the as-yet-unnamed character, which will be wearing a chef’s hat and holding a spatula and fork in his hands. Designed to stand on a 10-by-10-foot foundation to better allow for photos, he estimates the cost will run between $20,000 and $30,000.
“It’ll be the only giant in town,” Wheeler said. “They’ll see him a couple blocks down the street in both directions.”
Wheeler said the truck and muffler man are additional opportunities to bring a bit of fun and history to his Route 66 tribute.
For Davis, who invested around $80,000 in 2017 for his food truck, he’s looking forward to settling Davalon into one spot for a while.
“That is a huge bonus because you have random breakdowns,” he said of not constantly moving the truck to new spots. “The only thing I will miss is having my office window change every day. But I’m OK with that. It won’t be so much of a headache.”
Davis said the food truck park’s Route 66 connection and proximity to downtown and the Springfield Cardinals’ stadium, locals and tourists alike should be drawn in.
“It is definitely an experiment and gamble,” he said. “But I feel very strongly it’s going to work out. It’s a place I would like to go.”
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