Food truck entrepreneurs to share their success as advisors with Small Business Development Center

Amanda and Louie Ortega have had a front-row seat as the food truck scene has changed in Clark County throughout the last decade, first as the owners of The Painted Pepper food truck and now as consultants for the Springfield Small Business Development Center.

“(A food truck) is a cool thing with less commitment than a restaurant, but it’s not easy, not quick money, and not for the faint of heart,” Amanda says.

The Ortega famlly outside The Painted PepperBut what food trucks are is popular with the entrepreneurial-minded of Clark County.

“Starting a food truck is one of the most common types of businesses people come in here wanting to start,” says Rob Alexander, executive director of the Springfield SBDC.

Many people love to cook, Alexander says, and they see a food truck as an easy way to become their own boss. The Ortegas bring “real-world experience” to those who want to start their own food business, he says.

The SBDC typically is contacted by about 10 people each year who want to launch a food truck, and about three or four of those actually do so, he says.

The Ortegas ran The Painted Pepper – which specialized in southwest food, including breakfast burritos, quesadillas, and tacos – for 10 seasons, from 2014 until just this past November. They also were the co-owners from 2020 to 2023 of Cork + Board, a restaurant that served wine, cheese, and charcuterie options out of their location in COhatch The Market.

Amanda and Louie Ortega receive recognition for their work in the community.Louie, who is from El Paso, Texas, moved to Phoenix for culinary school. It was in Arizona that he met Amanda, who is originally from the St. Paris area. They married and moved to Ohio after having the first of their four kids, now 14.

Louie had been a chef for more than a decade both in Arizona and throughout southwest Ohio before the Ortegas, who are now both 42, started their food truck. Food trucks – or in their case, a food trailer, at first – were rather new at the time, but Louie knew he didn’t want to immediately jump into owning a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

“Back then we would park all over Springfield just trying to get things going,” he says.

A handful of other food trucks launched in the area around the span of about six months, Amanda says, and they were all very supportive of each other.

“With consulting, especially through the SBDC, we can kind of give that back,” she says.

It took at least a year to narrow down The Painted Pepper’s demographic and learn the best places to go to meet them, Amanda says. What’s more, the risk is high, and the margin is low.

“You got to have the passion or it’s just not going to work,” Amanda says.

While the number of food trucks gradually increased over the years, the amount shot up around two or three years ago, Louie says.

In the past, putting a food truck on the street was often a side gig or a hobby for a retiree, today more younger people are starting the businesses, Amanda says. Food trucks can be a good way to test a concept, although even a good reception doesn’t guarantee success as a standalone restaurant. 

Louie Ortega and their food truck.“There’s something about the novelty of a food truck that doesn’t always translate to brick and mortar,” she says.

Food trucks are a sound way to enter the restaurant business in Springfield, Alexander says. The area has few move-in ready restaurant spaces available. In addition, new restaurants can be both risky and prohibitively expensive.

Food trucks, however, are less expensive to launch and easier to get out of, too. Food trucks tend to hold their value and can be sold if the business closes, he says.

Clark County is home to many national chains, but not enough mom-and-pop businesses, Alexander says. It also doesn’t offer enough variety in cuisines, which makes it a good place to launch a food truck.

“I think people are really hungry for unusual concepts,” Alexander says.

Those who are seriously considering opening a food truck should make sure they are in the right financial position to do so and “go into it with eyes open,” he says.

“It’s risky, but if you’re going to take a risk, at least make it a calculated risk,” Alexander says.

For assistance, visit the Springfield SBDC online and request a free meeting, or call the office at 937-322-7821.

In the meantime, the Ortegas also are preparing for an anticipated late-summer opening of a new restaurant and food and wine market in a building dubbed The Metropolis.

Located on the corner of High and Center streets in a former Methodist church, the building also will include other office and retail spaces, including boutique shops.

Amanda says that it is exciting to find their place among the burgeoning downtown area.

“Our passion is really bringing positive food experiences to Clark County,” she says.

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Read more articles by Diane Erwin.

Diane Erwin is a freelance writer and former reporter for the Springfield News-Sun. A graduate of Ohio State University, her articles have appeared in a number of publications in Springfield and Dayton. In addition to her journalism background, she has worked in marketing and written copy for businesses throughout the country. In her spare time, she likes to read, dream about Schuler’s donuts, and travel near and far with her husband and two children.