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Food truck vendors roll in to serve downtown Watertown

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WATERTOWN — Now that the winter weather has finally broken, Linda J. Benway and Scott W. Lapell climb into their black Dodge Ram pickup and head out on the road almost every day with their restaurant in tow.

The two run a food vendor business, Roadside Eats, specifically choosing a location in the St. Patrick’s Church parking lot, 123 S. Massey St. It’s just a short distance from the Mercy Hospital and Woolworth Building redevelopment projects. It’s also near numerous downtown employers.

Aimed at enticing construction workers at the two major projects to stop by for lunch, the bright yellow trailer is a hard-to-miss addition to the downtown landscape.

“There’s a lot of construction,” said Ms. Benway, 54. “There’s just a lot of investment going on.”

They obtained approval from St. Patrick’s Church to use the Massey Street parking lot with access to busy Arsenal Street. In return, the church receives 10 percent of their profits, she said.

Open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, the full-service restaurant in the 8-by-20-foot trailer offers more than the typical food vendor cuisine of hot dogs and hamburgers.

They bought the custom-built trailer from a Florida company that specializes in concession trailers. Equipped with a grill, fryer, cooler and running water from a kitchen sink, “it’s got everything you need to run a restaurant,” said Mr. Lapell, 42.

Last year, they operated Roadside Eats in Oswego. But they figured Watertown was a booming town, so they came here, Ms. Benway said. Every day they take the trailer back to their Henderson Harbor home after hawking a menu that includes tacos, wraps, salads, fish and chips, clams, other seafood and Philly cheese steak sandwiches. They also go out on the road on weekends and set up shop at about 200 festivals and events a year, she said.

Both entrepreneurs owned other businesses before moving to Jefferson County a couple of years ago. She ran a dog-grooming and boarding business and horse farm in Lake George. He had an auto repair shop in Vermont.

When the weather gets warmer, the outdoor food vending business may heat up. Local restaurateur David P. Bartlett, manager of Johnny D’s Restaurant in the Paddock Arcade, plans to pull out a vending trailer and place it a block down in front of the Jefferson County Office Building.

Mr. Bartlett said that Mercy Hospital developer COR Development Co., Manlius, asked him to sell food to construction workers. But he decided to stay in the original location on Arsenal Street. Both businesses should do well, he said. “There’s enough people out there,” he said.

For a few years, Mr. Bartlett and his wife, Robin, had a trailer at the Jefferson County Historical Society museum on Washington Street. That’s how they got interested in buying Johnny D’s. He also participates in the Watertown Farm & Craft Market on Washington Street every year.

To sell food as an outdoor vendor, a business owner must obtain a $50 “vending in public streets” permit from the city, approval from the state Department of Health and liability insurance.

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