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Keepin’ it on the Q.T.

After passing the inconspicuous driveway a few times and circling back, I pull my Prius onto a signless and rocky asphalt throughway. The tree-lined drive opens up into a large gravel lot with parked industrial equipment and stacks of tires large enough to host a dinner party in. Sleeping giants, all. My guide, Steve Bollinger, [...]
Jeni Ruisch

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After passing the inconspicuous driveway a few times and circling back, I pull my Prius onto a signless and rocky asphalt throughway. The tree-lined drive opens up into a large gravel lot with parked industrial equipment and stacks of tires large enough to host a dinner party in.

Sleeping giants, all.

My guide, Steve Bollinger, pulls up in a four-wheel drive vehicle that looks like it would be right at home taking jumps in lunar canyons. Where we’re going, my little fuel-efficient hybrid would be sorely outgunned by the landscape.

Once in the ATV, Bollinger takes me on a tour of the 200-acre complex of nature-reclaimed mineland.

We whip down rocky rutted trails that have been partially swept away by heavy summer rains.

Dense forest opens up into meadows.

Birds and bugs fly up into the air in front of us, startled by our noise as we swing around corners. They’re not used to being disturbed here.

We cross a stream on foot, Bollinger building a path in front of him by rolling heavy rocks into the gentle current; and we emerge in front of a 22-foot waterfall.

This place is a playground for the off-trail adventurer.

I toggle back and forth between awe and disbelief.

I haven’t even explored half the area—and I already can’t wait to come back.

Good thing for me—and us—it’s only 10 minutes from downtown.

The Quarry Trail, or QT, is slated to become the next Columbus Metro Park to open in central Ohio, and central it is—its distance from the center of downtown is bikeable.

Breaking the mold of every Columbus metro park to precede it, The QT would be a primitive playground for kayaking and other water recreation, camping, backpacking, sheer cliff face climbing, and many more wilderness activities. And all this close enough to home that you can have a full day communing with nature, and be back in time for dinner.

Wagenbrenner Development is working with Columbus Metro Parks to acquire and develop this former mine, and transform it into a mixed use property focused on a wild experience close to home.

This proposed land use is changing the game in more ways than one. Portions of the Property were once used as a landfill and will need to be cleared of trees and other vegetation in order to install a proper cover on the waste that was placed there. The firm looks to maintain existing vegetation, especially along the Scioto River and within the Park.

Wagenbrenner has successfully re-developed other industrial and commercial brownfield properties, including landfills. They saw tremendous potential in the area, and turned to Columbus Metroparks to partner together, and steward this land into an evolutionary trajectory that includes the people of the capital city in recreational, residential, and commercial aspects

Uh, yes—potential. If the QT is being praised for its potential, you should get a look at what already resides within its borders.

A cliff face looks out over pristine water. It’s spring-fed; there are swans, egrets and turtles dotting the water’s edge and the rocks that descend into the azure mirror. A primitive campsite with a stone firepit sits overlooking the lake. I could imagine a whole weekend here, a little time outta Dodge. S’mores and swimming and campfire songs are circling in my head when Bollinger asks if I want to get a look at the property in its entirety.

Heading back to the ATV, we pass fresh animal tracks, and washed-out gullies that huge boulders have fallen into. Most of these spots haven’t seen a human in quite some time. We pull up to a ledge overlooking another lake. At the edge of the precipice, the scale of the wild area we have been tooling around on becomes apparent. Peering across the water, I realize we are hundreds of feet above the lake’s surface, at the top of a vertical rock wall. Stretched out in front of me are hundreds of acres of woods, lakes, and a few identifiable trails. In the hazy distance, trucks amble slowly down ledge roads cut into bedrock. From our perch, it looks like a child’s sandbox, earthmovers and back hoes sitting kitty corner to dumptrucks. It’s the last dying section of a mining operation that will soon leave 650 acres of midwestern paradise open for nature to reclaim, and the people of Columbus to explore.

While Bollinger was kind enough to be our on-the-ground guide, (614) turned to Tim Moloney, executive director of Columbus Metroparks, to get some background on what this venture could mean for the future of recreation in downtown Cbus.

What is the QT now, and what do you imagine it will be?

In the simplest of terms, this project will become our 20th Metro Park and serve the residents of Franklin County, much like our other parks. Hiking, wildlife viewing, picnicking, fitness, immersive in nature. In addition to that, the quarry will offer some new options not available at other parks like mountain biking, rock climbing, paddling activities, river access, and some spectacular views of this extreme environment.

How big is the projected park?

The property is over 650 acres, but we are looking at an initial phase of 150-200 acres of park development. As the project moves forward, the park could grow over time.

What needs to happen for this image to become a reality?

The first step, which we are engaged in now, is acquisition. In this phase we not only need to come up with the right pricing and terms, but we also have an immense due diligence project looking at what it will take to get this site ready to be a park. Beyond the acquisition, we then will need to work with our public and begin to come up with designs and construction documentation making this a park.

What is the timeline before this is open for public use?

Hopefully we will close on the property by the end of the year and then begin the design phase. Once design is finished, I would expect our construction timeline to take several years to have the park fully opened to the public. We are looking at options of getting a select area of the park opened much earlier than that.

With private development happening here alongside public, who will have access to this area?

While the private development component is something new to Metro Parks, I do not see access changing for anyone. Each and every one of our parks are open 365 days a year and open to everyone, and this one will be no different. We will just have a neighborhood inside of a park. Even though there are no residences inside of Scioto Audubon, that park has commercial access within its borders as well.

Where will funding come from?

We have been very fortunate to have the support of the great people of Franklin County supporting our levies for projects like this for many years. In addition to this funding we have already received support from the State Capital Budget and from the Clean Ohio Fund. These two funding sources will be a major contributor to the total acquisition costs.

What is your vision for the future of Metro parks in central Ohio?

Over 10 million visitors come to our parks every year, a number which is growing. The latest studies show our continued population growth focused in the central core of Franklin County. I think we need to develop our new parks close to where the people are. Our 2016 Strategic Plan clearly told us that our customers love our parks, but their frequency of use dramatically goes up with the parks closer to their homes. This project is within 5 miles of over 350,000 people.

How will the QT be different than other parks in Columbus?

I think the beginning product we are starting with, quarry land, is very unique. Visitors will be able to get down and into areas that were mined out for limestone. There will be cliffs and high walls for exploration. We will have over 3 miles of riverfront trails for bikes, hiking, and paddling. There is a 22 foot waterfall that is very unique to Central Ohio. We will have natural rock climbing areas and mountain biking inside the County. Wildlife viewing is nothing short of excellent, frequently seen are: deer, beaver, osprey, abundant waterfowl, coyotes, fox, and even frequent eagle sightings.

Is your philosophy as director different from your predecessors?

I’m sure there are days people could think this, but I believe I am just carrying on the traditions the previous 4 Directors have set. From Walter Tucker building a zoo at Blacklick Woods all the way to John O’Meara building the largest outdoor climbing wall at Scioto Audubon, my predecessors have always been at the cutting edge in making our Metro Parks the most relevant park district in the country.  I just have a different approach and way about doing business, but at the end of the day, we all were focused on getting the people of Franklin County outside and engaged in an amazing natural resource.

411 on QT:

At 650 total available acres, Columbus’ newest metropark will be a genre-busting change to the mowed fields, dog parks, and paved bike paths that we’re used to. Here are some fast facts to wrap your brain around the eventual size of our next addition:

500

Approximate number of Ohio Stadiums that could fit inside its boundaries
3

Number of QTs it would take to match the 2,000 acre Hocking Hills State Park region

842 

Number of acres covered by New York’s Central Park. 650 down, 192 to go.

27,000 

Acres of land covered by Columbus Metroparks, not including the QT

2.4% 

Overall increase in metroparks area after addition of completed QT

5

Miles from downtown

 

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Community

Nancy’s Home Cooking ensures no one goes hungry on Thanksgiving

Aaron Wetli

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Rick Hahn is passionate; passionate about his restaurant, passionate about his community, and most especially passionate about the assistance he offers to those in need.

Serving hearty breakfasts and delicious lunches (get the chicken and noodles), Nancy’s Home Cooking has been a Clintonville staple since it was opened by Nancy Kammerling in 1968. In 1970, Kammerling sold the business to Cindy King who ran the restaurant for nearly 40 years before niece Shelia Hahn took the reins.

Flash forward three years and both King and Hahn, neither of whom would turn away a customer in need, had passed away, leaving the future of the restaurant in doubt. This is where Shelia’s husband Rick stepped in.

“I married into the King family but still didn’t know anything about cooking,” Rick said. “I learned from watching a lot of cooking shows on television. I just felt that I had to keep Nancy’s going and to continue Cindy and Shelia’s commitment to serving the community.”

On his watch, Hahn has implemented a Pay It Forward program that serves between 10 and 20 customers a day. In short, for $5, you can purchase a future meal for someone in need; the only caveat is that the buyer has to write a message on a post it note that is delivered with the lunch.

“People can write whatever they would like,” Rick explained. “Some messages are funny and some are inspirational. Some are even movie quotes or jokes. The important thing is that the notes brighten the day of the person who receives it.”

It should be noted that these Pay It Forward meals are not just a box with a turkey sandwich, potato chips and an apple. Those who receive the meal can choose from chicken and noodles; biscuits and gravy; a breakfast platter; Southwest chili; grilled cheese; and bean soup and cornbread. The menu is seasonal and changes for appropriate outdoor weather conditions.

At the suggestion of girlfriend Richelle, Hahn also offers personal hygiene kits to those who ask. These kits, which come in drawstring backpacks, aren’t cheap to assemble (about $10 each) and contain a 30 day supply of soap, toothpaste, wipes, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo and other assorted toiletries. Women’s kits also contain feminine hygiene products.

“As for the kits, no one is turned away. You don’t even have to eat here to get one,” said Rick.

The real Belle of the Ball, though, is Rick’s Thanksgiving Dinner. Last year Rick, with help from his staff, family and neighborhood volunteers (different shifts of 50 each), served over 500 dinners to the community. Canopies, tables, and different stations line High St., the attitude is festive, and again, no one is turned away.

“On Thanksgiving, we are probably in violation of a few zoning laws, but I don’t think anyone really cares. All of the other businesses are closed that day and we have High Street to ourselves,” Rick said while laughing.

And what a Thanksgiving dinner it is. Last year’s menu contained the regular Thanksgiving staples—turkey, ham, rolls, green beans and mashed potatoes as well as pizza, shrimp cocktail, brisket, ribs, and lobster. Not too shabby.

“Not everyone who comes to the meal is homeless or even necessarily in need. Some of the attendees are elderly, have no family, or have no other place to go. I’m happy to give them a place to go,” said Rick through a smile.

It is safe to say that Rick has honored the legacy of the King Family.

Nancy’s Home Cooking is located at 3133 N High St. If you would like to donate money towards the Pay it Forward meals or Thanksgiving Dinner, you can do so in person or use PayPal.Me/nancyshomecooking. You can also drop off new/unused toiletries at Nancy’s from 6 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and from 8 a.m.–2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

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Total ClusterTruck: “Ghost kitchen” focuses on delivery-based dining

J.R. McMillan

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When Chris Baggott returns from a run to the ClusterTruck kitchen, he’s almost always late, and his fellow drivers don’t mind letting him know it. Tight delivery times aren’t just an expectation for the fledgling food service. It’s part of the brand, serving fresh fare to waiting patrons, often in less time than the average restaurant.

So what’s ClusterTruck’s trick to providing such a wide range of high-quality cuisine at a record pace? There’s no restaurant, and their slowest delivery driver, Chris Baggott, is also the CEO.

“I don’t go out as much as I used to, just to keep my hands in it. But when I get back minutes later than our more experienced drivers, they laugh at me,” Baggott confessed. “If you’ve been doing this for a year, you’re good at it. You know which corner or which door, a little shortcut here and there. Faster delivery is what makes our business work.”

Photos by Zane Osler

Quietly creeping into the local culinary scene between the flood of innovative eateries and a fleet of food trucks are so-called “ghost kitchens.” They’re restaurants without the restaurant, focusing exclusively on delivery without the hassle and overhead of running a retail establishment. Homegrown concepts like Food Fort Columbus and 1400 Food Lab help industry entrepreneurs prepare meals with all of the precision of their retail rivals. Kitchen United, which already operates locations in Pasadena and Chicago, is scheduled to open their latest facility in Grandview Yard this year as the next phase of an ambitious nationwide expansion. For those struggling to find and afford suitable space, it’s the culinary equivalent of co- working and part of an already $100 million food delivery industry.

But ClusterTruck remains the original, unapologetic disruptor. Operating out of an inconspicuous warehouse near downtown Columbus, it relies on its own dedicated delivery team instead of contract food couriers to serve their hungry customers.

“There’s a broken model in third-party food delivery, from delays that affect quality to low courier morale. If you look at Yelp, a lot of the negative reviews are really criticisms of the delivery process,” he explained. “When I first looked at this market, the restaurants weren’t happy, the customers weren’t happy, and the drivers weren’t happy. So we deconstructed it and built a system that serves all of its constituents.”

That approach may sound a little wonky for a phantom food truck operator. But Baggott didn’t work his way into the restaurant business busing tables. His former life as a software creator proved both profitable and liberating, with earlier endeavors snapped up by Salesforce and Oracle for handsome sums. Along the way, he got back to basics, exploring his growing passion for sustainable agriculture, going as far as starting his own grocery store, then founding three farm-to-table restaurants from scratch. Baggott is as much a chameleon as an iconoclast, as comfortable in a conference room as a chicken coop. Even with dirt under his fingernails, the gears of an engineer are always turning.

“Let’s say the customer is five minutes away from the kitchen, and I have 30 minutes to get the order there. Our software manages our drivers, so we may not start making your food immediately,” Baggott noted. “Our driver may be able to make another delivery before your order is ready. We’ll start making your order when the driver is five minutes away. That way, you get your order on time, and fresh from the kitchen.”

Comfort food is evolving by definition. From hearty carbs to sophisticated salads, “comfort” is now more a measure of how food makes you feel, not an arbitrary attribute that’s the same for everyone. Meeting that ever-expanding expectation is also an edge for such hyper- efficient eateries.

“Ghost kitchens can iterate and innovate. We recently launched a gyro in Indianapolis. We also launched a protein bowl with hummus we make in house,” Baggott recalled. “That’s when we realized we already have pita, tahini, and chickpeas—we should make a falafel. Now, we’re testing recipes to launch a falafel.”

Not all revelations are as obvious or unemotional. The Columbus customer base continues to grow, as are operations in Denver, Kansas City, and the original location in Indianapolis. But ClusterTruck locations in Cleveland and Minneapolis were temporarily suspended. Some menu items have also gone away when they didn’t make the cut, including their take on Johnny Marzetti.

“Dropping Johnny Marzetti was heartbreaking for me because we already had all of the ingredients. I loved it, but it just didn’t sell. But a big advantage we have over a brick-and-mortar restaurant is access to data. A traditional restaurant may launch a new menu item and sell 500 the first day,” he explained. “But they can’t see who orders it again, or worse, who ordered it and never came back. All of those transactions are anonymous. We see everything, order rates and reorder rates. We don’t just know what sells, we know how it impacts overall customer experience.”

ClusterTruck launched a tofu kimchi burrito that initially sold very well, but then seemed to taper off. They dropped it, but once they dug into the data, they discovered existing customers returned, but customers whose first order was the ill-fated burrito didn’t. Their online menu has since become more adaptive, featuring items with higher rates of reorder for new customers, something typical restaurants just can’t do, and an insight they probably would have missed.

“One of the challenges with Cleveland and Minneapolis was building the brand. We were great at building kitchens and software, but frankly, we weren’t great at marketing because what we do is so different,” he noted. “We haven’t abandoned those cities, we’re just refining our marketing before we reopen. It’s one of the advantages third-party food delivery services like Grubhub and DoorDash have. They’re just adding a new service to an existing restaurant. We have to introduce a whole new brand.”

The funny thing about brands is that they aren’t how you view your company, it’s how others view you. And that’s also an inherent challenge for restaurants minus retail, even as the market for prepared foods booms. Catering is key for most ghost kitchens, and ClusterTruck tapped into it early, making group orders easier for folks with restrictive and selective diets, even offering access through the popular office collaboration platform Slack. Now about a third of sales come from group orders. But every new business needs a little luck and a leap of faith. Fast, free delivery still came down to customers meeting couriers at the curb, a hunch that paid off.

“That’s our entire business model, and the one thing we couldn’t know for certain before we launched if customers would be willing to do. It’s why our drivers get four to six, even eight deliveries an hour, instead of just one or two,” Baggott explained. “We’ve had more than a million deliveries and I can count on one hand the number of complaints we’ve had about having to meet the driver. When it comes to quality, every efficiency matters. It’s why customers are as much a part of our success as our staff and our software. They come to us, online and outside, and that’s what makes ClusterTruck work.”

For menus and ordering, visit clustertruck.com.

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News

Dear I-670 drivers, your lives may never be the same

614now Staff

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Notice anything different on your I-670 and/or I-270 commute lately? Could be the nine 600-square-foot, 110,000-pound digital signs towering over the freeway.

These signs display information about the first ever Ohio SmartLane.

The I-670 "SmartLane" is the left shoulder that will be open when traffic slows to a crawl. It begins just east of I-71 in downtown Columbus and extends to I-270 on the East Side.

https://twitter.com/ODOT_Columbus/status/1187093122188079104

The SmartLane will be closed most of the time, indicated by a red X. But when traffic dips below 50 mph, The Dispatch reports traffic monitors will send signals to the overhead signs to open the SmartLane. When open, the speed limit is 45 mph.

“It might sound counter-intuitive, but studies have shown traveling at slower speeds actually keeps traffic moving better because it avoids the 'stop and go' conditions which can cause more accidents," said ODOT Director Jerry Wray. "Ultimately, we believe the combination of the extra travel lane and the reduced speed limits will allow for a more reliable commute for travelers along that route."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca-LdUrsmnc#action=share

ODOT has installed more than 30 traffic cameras to monitor the lane for any obstructions, reports The Dispatch. The right shoulder of I-670 will be free for disabled vehicles to use.

The $61 million project is officially complete. Visit ODOT.com for more information on the project and the new traffic patterns.

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