Restaurateur Rocco Whalen Brings Food Truck Downtown, Gets Cited By the City

Rocco Whalen, serving from his food truck in March in Tremont, where city regulations do not bar the trucks. Peggy Turbett l The Plain Dealer

By Michael K. McIntyre |

Rocco Whalen, serving from his food truck in March in Tremont, where city regulations do not bar the trucks. Peggy Turbett l The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Fahrenheit chef/owner Rocco Whalen decided to take a stand on the illegality of food trucks in downtown Cleveland on Friday by rolling up to East Sixth Street and St. Clair Avenue to fire up some lunchtime vittles.

He wanted to raise some money for women’s cancer research (20 percent of proceeds) and show support for other food truck vendors, notably Chris Hodgson of Dim and Den Sum, who don’t have the luxury of a top-rated restaurant to keep them afloat economically.

On the menu for Whalen’s truck, Shortrib 1: Fresh fried cod sandwiches, mom’s meatballs and “Cleveland Cheesesteaks.” But the city added a couple of sour dishes in the form of two citations — one for failing to have a peddler’s license, the other for selling food from a truck in the central business district without a license.

Whalen had to cancel lunch and has a court date April 29.

He’s livid.

“They’re just angry people,” he said of city inspectors, who showed up after a hot dog vendor called to complain. (Note to hot dog vendor: The people lining up for cod sandwiches aren’t going to buy hot dogs instead.)

“Cleveland has a way of making every situation harder than it has to be.”

Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman, who represents Tremont and downtown, is shepherding legislation through City Council (there’s a hearing Monday) that would allow food trucks downtown, with some restrictions. He said he was so angry about Whalen’s situation that he’d donate $500 to University Hospitals and the Cleveland Clinic for cancer research and would go to court if Whalen needed him there.

The chef saw those acts as garnish.

“I don’t want a donation from Councilman Cimperman. I need him to just get the legislation passed and make it a little easier. This is ridiculous,” Whalen said. “I already have licenses for mobile food. I’ve had a health inspection that I’ve passed with flying colors. I guarantee I know more about safety and sanitation than a hot dog vendor who never changes his dirty hot dog water.”

Whalen said it’s ridiculous the city can’t let the trucks roam without so much legislative hoop jumping.

“It’s what every other city in the world does,” he said. “It doesn’t need to take all this time.”

Playoffs at The Q: For a minute, we thought Dan Gilbert had gone daft.

He tweeted his Twitter followers Friday: “Playoff time at The Q tomorrow!”

Umm, Dan, the Cavs didn’t make the playoffs. First time in seven years, so we know it’s tough to get your head around it.

But the rest of the tweet cleared up our confusion: “Monsters hockey starts our first-ever run at the Calder Cup. Who’s coming out to see Game 1?”

The game is at noon today.

Muddy waters: A city-owned van from the Cleveland Water Department was sporting a makeshift political statement last week. Etched into the dirt on the back of the van was the number “5” with a line through it, the symbol that public employee unions are using as they campaign to repeal the collective bargaining reform measure once known as Senate Bill 5.

Political statements on city vehicles aren’t allowed, even when written with a finger in the dirt. But it’s understandable that writing the traditional “wash me” was not an option. At the rates the Water Department wants to charge, you could go broke washing a van.