And a blown transmission is a part of it, too.
Dean Barath found that out this past week, and consequently he will not have his planned presence for Ideal Provisions at this weekend’s Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival. During his first four years of business he’s not bought a vendor slot for the event, but this year he was determined to add to the available Italian foods, and he hoped to be parked near the “Little Italy” area.
Nope. Dean’s in his driveway instead.
The food truck is parked for perhaps two weeks, but the cooking continues. Barath is making good, of course, on his catering gigs this weekend and welcoming walk-up customers, too. The issue is explaining where his family home is exactly because it’s near the Pizza Hut along U.S. 40 but not directly across from the Pizza Hut.
“It’s one of the rough parts of the business, being mobile, you know? So, we’re docked here at home for at least a week,” Barath said. “This is the first year we were going to take the truck to the Italian Festival because I wanted to be included with the folks making the Italian food.
“One of the things I was going to make real, Lemon gnocchi’s the way I was taught to make them by family so we could bring a little more Italian to the festival. I wouldn’t want to be in the middle of all those vendors with the banners 50 feet in the air and 18 different things on their menu,” he said. “I can’t go that big, so I wanted to do something more authentic to add to the celebration.”
Inside the 1993 Chevy box truck are a 70-pound fryer, a four-foot flattop skillet and a three-foot char-broiler along with two deep-chest freezers, a beverage cooler, and a steam table. And yes, it’s all within the chef’s spin.
If it is 85 degrees along Water Street this weekend, the temperature inside a food truck can easily be at least 15 degrees warmer. Next weekend, though, Ideal Provisions will operate out at the Chesapeake Building at the Marshall County Fair. Chicken dinners go quickly, and the ribs and “Dirty Fries” are popular, too.
“Our schedule does give us a little leeway with getting the transmission fixed because, unfortunately, it’s a UL480 transmission, and it’s a difficult transmission to located now so we’re going to be parked for a little more than a week,” Barath said. “We’ll be there for the most of part of the week, so that will give us a little more time to get the food truck fixed, but missing this weekend was big deal for us. Not only were we looking forward to it, but we were hoping we would do well.”
“We started off very small and very conservative, and all I had was a canopy, a picnic table, a couple of other tables, and a smoker, and I was just on the side of the road,” Barath said. “And then we found investors who have faith in us and allowed us to grow. But this is a part of it, and we considered this part of the business when we were getting into it, but this timing is just bad news. We’ll survive, but we’re disappointed.”
Since the Italian Festival’s first year in 1983, vendors from throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region have converged on downtown Wheeling the week after Jamboree in the Hills, and the same scenario has played out for the past 34 years. There’s always been the purse lady and chicken-on-a-stick and the folks, too, with the knock-off sunglasses and the counterfeit watches.
In all, this weekend’s event at Heritage Port will have more than 100 vendors, at least 70 of which will be eating-oriented, and the entertainment schedule is robust and includes local bands the M-80’s, Hoard & Jones, The Joseph Sisters, and Hit Play.
“My wife, Carrie, and I go to the Italian Festival, and it’s a great, and that’s why we wanted to be there. I’m Hungarian and Italian, so I grew up with all kinds of different recipes, so I was really looking forward to putting my Italian favorites out there so I could hear what people think about it,” Barath said. “It’s a food truck, and I can make just about anything out of it.”
Barath and his wife were high-school sweethearts at St. John Central, and after their commencement in 1994 they followed each other to Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio. With business and culinary degrees in hand, Dean was employed at Ernie’s Esquire and at the Cork & Bottle, along with Michael’s Steakhouse, Central Grille, Geno’s, Chapz, and at the Gazette Grill before meeting a street chef from North Carolina.
“I started doing barbecue around the Wheeling area about five years ago after I had met Travis Hocutt. Travis was selling his barbecue on the street, and then he was going to open a restaurant in the old Ponderosa in Bridgeport,” Barath explained. “He seemed like a really nice guy, so I started working with him until his death in October 2010. He told me at the start that he couldn’t pay me much but that he would teach me everything he knew about barbecue, so I took him up on the offer.
“His wife, Liz, just couldn’t handle it all after he passed, so she asked me if I wanted to take over the business,” he said. “So, I bought almost all of his stuff, and I started setting up on tables on the corner near Wesbanco Arena. People went crazy over our food, so that got us started.”
The name of the business, Ideal Provisions, has a family history because Barath’s grandfather, Joseph Minnozzi, owned and operated a slaughterhouse and general store under the same name in Martins Ferry. Since returning to the Upper Ohio Valley following college, Barath has received several pieces of memorabilia from his grandfather’s business, including a thermometer, six-inch rulers, pens and pencils, and photographs, too.
These days this food truck owner utilizes four smokers and a few other grills to keep paces with a reservation book that’s now filling up with catering calls well into 2018.
“Food trucks like mine became really popular in this area because the Food Network had at least a couple of shows dedicated to them, but when the gas and oil guys took off for a long period of time, it fizzled a good bit,” Barath explained. “These days it seems to be getting better, but a lot of those workers are back, too. That’s caused a lot of food trucks to come down here from the Pittsburgh area because right now it’s just me and Thomas Gilson and his Cheese Melt trailer.
“And there are a lot of lessons to learn; I know that now. I remember the first year we set up at Jamboree in the Hills, we were determined to do it right by having the best food anyone could buy out there. But there was this other concession trailer that was set up next to us, and even though their food was inferior to ours, those people flocked to them because they had all of the flashing lights,” Barath said. “That taught me that you can have the best food, but sometimes you have to have that sizzle that sells the steak.”
The couple, both of whom are identical twins, are raising four children: Elijah is 13, their identical-twin boys, Isaac and Aiden, are 12, and Benjamin is 7 years old. Dean and Carrie decided a couple of years ago to begin homeschooling the boys because of the opportunities the business is offered outside of the valley region.
That’s because they opted for the food truck instead of a stationary eatery.
“That’s because I didn’t think I was ready for the restaurant like some investors wanted me to get into, but they did convince me to get into the food truck business because that trend had reached this area,” Barath recalled. “We were setting up everywhere we could like downtown Wheeling, in Elm Grove, across from T.J.’s Sports Garden, down in South Wheeling near Lowe’s, and near some of the well pads in the area.
“There have been some people who have tried the same thing that we’re doing, but then they have come to me since and asked me if I want to buy their smokers and other equipment,” he explained. “They all have told that they wanted to do what we were doing because it looked like it was good time and pretty easy, but I guess they then found out how difficult it can be and how many hours it takes. It’s not a day job; I can tell you that.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)