A food truck “rodeo” originally scheduled for this week in downtown Schenectady has been indefinitely postponed, and at least a few vendors are surprised by the move.
Food truck owners expecting to participate in the rodeo originally scheduled for Thursday were informed just a week before the event that it needed to be called off.
The rodeo was scheduled to take place in the city-owned parking lot at the corner of Broadway and Liberty Street, which is managed by Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority. At least nine food trucks had planned to serve their specialities, and musical entertainment was scheduled.
According to Gwenie’s Breakfast Wagon co-owner Lou Grevely, who helped to organize the event, the rodeo had been in the planning stages for about two months.
“It was not something that we just put together in 24 hours and said, ‘Hey let’s do this,’ ” he said, noting that the group of food trucks recently held two similar, well-attended events at the Saratoga Eagles Club.
Word of the cancellation of the Schenectady event came to Grevely by way of an email from Jim Salengo, executive director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation.
The organization had been assisting Grevely with event logistics, which included finding a location for the rodeo, creating a promotional poster and lining up needed electrical service.
The email Grevely received from Salengo said that the rodeo had to be cancelled due to “unanticipated logistical issues.”
“In particular, we have been informed by Metroplex that more time is needed to work out the necessary insurance certificates,” Grevely quoted from the email.
Ray Gillen, chairman of Metroplex, said he just found out about the event late last week, when a board member called it to his attention.
In order for the event to be held, basic liability insurance would be required from the food trucks, something that Gillen said he did not have in-hand. Because of that, he said the best course of action seemed to be to postpone the event.
“That lot they’re looking at is actually still owned by the city and Metroplex manages it, so there’s kind of an additional need there to protect the city and Metroplex. So, it’s a little different from our other lots,” he explained. “Also, that’s a busy lot and we need to make arrangements with our parking vendor and we need insurance certificates and other things.”
Tim Taney, owner of Slidin’ Dirty, a food truck business that had planned to participate in the rodeo, said he didn’t have much of a hand in the event planning, but felt its cancellation was “pretty abrupt.”
Grevely agreed that the cancellation came “very much out of the blue.” He said the group had been told they were going to be able to use the entire parking lot for the rodeo and that surrounding streets were going to be shut down for the event.
Grevely said he has not been in touch with the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation since he received the email, but said he would have worked to get any required insurance certificates, if that option had been offered.
“If somebody would have come out to me and said, ‘Hey, this is Metroplex, I need this from you guys,’ we would have done anything possible to get it done, because I had publicized [the event],” he said.
The parking lot the food truck owners planned to use for the rodeo is across the street from Pinhead Susan’s Pub and in close proximity to many other downtown eateries, but Salengo said he had spoken to some restaurateurs in the area and had not heard any complaints about the upcoming event.
“The whole idea by having it there would be to kind of generate some foot traffic. Foot traffic was the whole reason that we agreed to help them out with it because we thought it would be a good people generator,” he said.
Tommy McDonald, manager of Pinhead Susan’s, said he was “a little unhappy” about the event being right next door.
“I know it would take away from the food business that we do have on that night, but I think we were going to try to work around it and maybe sell our local Mad Jack beer somehow, so we were going to try to put some good into the bad,” he said.
He conceded that the event may actually have brought some people in for another bite to eat or a beer.
The rodeo wasn’t even on the radar of Kelly Cowell, manager of Katie O’Byrne’s Restaurant on Erie Boulevard, but she said she didn’t think it would have had much of an impact on the restaurant’s business.
One person who did voice displeasure about the event was Pete Sparano, president of Schenectady’s Sons of Italy group.
He said he called Salengo to let him know he was displeased because the Wandering Dago food truck was on the list of vendors participating in the rodeo. The word “dago” has long been considered a derogatory slur for Italians.
The name of the truck has caused a stir since it made its debut in the Capital Region. The truck operators were asked to leave Saratoga Race Course at the beginning of the 2013 summer meet because of complaints about its name, after the owners had contracted to sell food there all summer. The truck was also denied a food vendor license at the Empire State Plaza.
Salengo confirmed that he had received the call from Sparano but said his organization’s role in the food truck rodeo was logistical and that his level of involvement ended at that.
Gillen said he was unaware of the call from Sparano.
The owners of the Wandering Dago declined to comment on the subject.