Gary natives Scott Yonover and Paul Yonover, brothers who are now a lawyer and doctor, respectively, got a chance to tour the Gary Works steel mill last year and were wondering where all the steelworkers could eat after the commissary was closed.
"There's a McDonald's, a Rally's and a Church's Chicken, but you otherwise have to go to Merrillville to get something to eat," Scott Yonover said. "There was a need we saw. You shouldn't live in Gary and have to go to Merrillville to eat dinner."
So the brothers, who were born at Methodist Hospital, grew up partly in Miller and now reside in the Chicago area, decided to address a food desert downtown and a lack of places for steelworkers at U.S. Steel to grab breakfast and other meals. They are partnering with former Majestic Star Casino chef Tim Bellamy and restaurateur Daniel Krause, who introduced food trucks to the Champaign-Urbana metro in Illinois in 2012 and now runs the Cracked on Milwaukee restaurant in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood.
They plan to soon open the 5th Avenue Food Stop, a food truck park that will be located on Fifth Avenue between Carolina and Georgia streets just east of the U.S. Steel Yard. At the start it will feature two food trucks: Cracked, a spin-off of the Cracked on Milwaukee restaurant in Chicago that will specialize in breakfast fare, and Blacktop BBQ, featuring a southern-influenced barbecue menu. They hope to eventually also add a wood-fired pizza food truck, a taco truck and potentially a hot dog truck as well.
"This will be food of good quality, not fast food, but it will be inexpensive," Scott Yonover said. "There will be breakfast wraps, burritos and omelettes in the morning, and brisket rib tips and smoked meats in the afternoon and evening. We've counted cars going into the steel mill and the car count is amazing. All those workers shouldn't have to bring bagged lunches."
Blacktop BBQ's menu will include pulled pork, jerk chicken and soul food sides like collard greens and mac and cheese. The Big Yonni Loaded Fries will be topped with brisket, barbecue sauce, a white cheddar cheese sauce and island coleslaw. Cracked will offer a variety of breakfast sandwiches, tacos and burritos, as well as Parmesan truffle tots and tots smothered in smoked chorizo and sriracha sour cream.
They plan to focus on quality food that's prepared in a kitchen off-site and cooked fresh.
"This isn't a roach coach serving instant coffee and candy bars," he said.
The food truck part will have picnic tables for dining outside, though it will also cater to a to-go business, such as for steelworkers commuting to Gary Works.
"This could be seen as very visionary or very crazy," Scott Yonover said. "We're opening in the middle of the pandemic but we think more people will want to eat outside or grab and go their breakfast, lunch or dinner."
The Yonovers initially approached the city of Gary about their idea and were referred to the ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen culinary incubator, which helped them get open.
"We believe in public-private partnerships and are in a partnership with the ArtHouse," Scott Yonover said. "We're going to source as much food locally as we can in the city... The city and the Prince administration really helped us cut through the red tape. It's a new day for doing business in the city of Gary."
The official opening is slated to take place on Oct. 7. But starting on Tuesday, they plan to take their food trucks around to places like the BMV and City Hall before then to introduce people across the city to their food.
The hope is to address the food dessert in downtown Gary with food trucks, which have lower overhead and operating costs than traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants, Paul Yonover said.
"We saw an opportunity because nature abhors a vacuum. We knew it was a bit of a food desert and pondered the food truck concept, because who's going to want to start a restaurant business in the middle of COVID," he said. "We found a very experienced food truck operator in Daniel Krause, who pioneered the food truck business down at the University of Illinois in 2012. The twist on our idea was instead of a mobile food truck that goes around we would have a fixed food truck stop, essentially a restaurant area where we can try different food truck concepts. During the pandemic, everything in business is being disrupted and the brick-and-mortar restaurant business is taking a huge pounding. We don't have to invest in a huge amount of infrastructure, which is great from an economic standpoint."
5th Avenue Food Stop will take over an unused parcel of land the city provided between Fifth Avenue and Fourth Avenue.
"The outdoor concept is for a grab-and-go or a quick bite in a festival destination with a food festival-type atmosphere," he said. "We're looking to leverage that open-air space by the mill where people can be socially distant and still social. Gary is a huge town with hardworking people who don't have many food options in their own town. It's ridiculous they have to go out of town for a lot of food options and that McDonald's in the only choice. We're looking to provide high-quality food and hot coffee any time of day."
The park with different food trucks will let them experiment with different concepts to see what works. They plan to employ at least four or five people at first and then at least 10 to 12 as it expands.
"We want to be an institution in some respect that's the envy of surrounding towns," he said. "Our goal is for the 5th Avenue Food Stop to be where people want to come to eat when they're in the mood for an egg sandwich. The whole thing will depend on the early success because when you're planting a tree you need to establish some roots. We were born in Gary, have love in our hearts for Gary, and want hot, delicious food to be accessible without people have to travel too far away. We're very excited and hope to have the warm embrace of the entire town. People have been telling us 'you guys can't open soon enough,' which is what you want to hear when you're opening a business."
Initially, 5th Avenue Food Stop will be open from about 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday but hours will be adjusted as needed.
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