Downtown Chowdown brings eats to streets

Photos by Cheyenne Boone/The Herald
Hampton Erny, 4, of Jasper, feeds her brother, Hays, 2, at Downtown Chowdown on the Courthouse Square in Jasper on Wednesday. The event hosted food truck vendors from the region, live music and shopping from local stores.


JASPER — Where would you go to find Greek and Mexican foods; as well as barbecue, crepes, shaved ice and freshly squeezed drinks — all in the same place?

Believe it or not, Wednesday night, you could get them all on the Courthouse Square in Jasper.

A varied spread of seven food trucks and mobile vendors from across the region assembled at the site for Downtown Chowdown, the city’s first-ever food truck festival. The new event marked the first in a series of monthly gatherings that aim to promote on-the-move chefs, farmers market vendors and downtown merchants.

A somewhat complicated relationship with food trucks now in the rearview, Wednesday’s event seemed to further solidify the city’s new direction of support for mobile vendors.

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“There’s a lot of food trucks,” Nancy Eckerle, executive director of the Jasper Chamber of Commerce, said as attendees wandered around the closed-off Square. “So, as this becomes more popular, the food trucks will be asking to come here. Not us asking them to come here.”

An ordinance officially permitting and allowing those vendors to make and sell their products at certain times and in certain areas was approved by the Jasper Common Council in September. That local legislation includes a line that allows city leadership to designate locations of permitted operation for special events.

As they waited with their two children to order food from Tri-R-Tips Hawaiian style BBQ, Ross and Ashleigh Flannagan of Jasper spoke of how they were looking forward to filling their bellies with food and their evening as a pleasant night out together.

A crowd gathers for Downtown Chowdown on the Courthouse Square in Jasper on Wednesday.

“It’s nice having a variety,” Ross said of the many options available. “Having more, different options. I like it. It should go on in the future, definitely.”

Wednesday’s vendors included Taqueria El Llano of Jasper, A Tasty Bite of Europe of Owensboro, Madi’s Main Squeeze of Jasper, Tri-R-Tips of Owensboro, Kona Ice of Evansville, Acropolis Restaurant & Catering of Evansville and Oink Inc. Smokehouse of Jasper.

The Flannagans enjoy eating at food trucks because they offer a quick and convenient, made-to-order experience with fresh food. On the other side of the Square, Brittany Cummins and Chris Pierce, both of Jasper, reflected on their love of the mobile kitchens after they picked up a gyro and batch of brisket mac and cheese.

“Because we live down the street, we heard about it and we love food trucks,” Pierce replied when asked why they decided to check out the festival.

Added Cummins: “That too, and with everything being canceled for the COVID, this is now the time that you can actually get out with everything else being canceled for the rest of the year. So, might as well take it while you’ve got it.”

Darla Blazey, the city’s director of community development and planning, explained ahead of the event that organizers would encourage social-distancing practices and recommend wearing facial coverings at the event. Attendees were also encouraged to bring their own seats or blankets, vendors had hand sanitizer available to guests and some activities were shelved to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and guidelines.

Zaiden Lengacher, 1, of Huntingburg, fist bumps Jason Smith of Birdseye after strumming his guitar at Downtown Chowdown on the Courthouse Square in Jasper on Wednesday. Smith is the lead singer for the band The Hiding and performed at the event.

While the event was anchored by food trucks, farmers market vendors set up tents in front of City Hall, and downtown shops extended their hours to welcome in customers who might not have popped by in recent months. Promoting retailers was another priority for organizers.

“It’s good for business,” Blazey said when asked why the gathering was important. “We really hope that people come early or stay after and shop, and really see all of the different types and really awesome stores that we have on the Square.”

She continued: “Retail has taken such a hit with the pandemic. We really want that whole industry to remain solvent and thrive in our downtown.”

Originally set to begin in May and run into the early fall, the recurring downtown celebrations will now take place from 4 to 8 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month through October.

Who knows? In the future, Downtown Chowdown could morph or evolve into something even bigger.

“It could grow into Food Truck Fridays, or maybe every Wednesday,” Eckerle said. “It could just grow into something different.”

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