Town and Gown: An Ohio University history

As an historic “college town,” Athens, Ohio, and the university in its midst have had to find ways to collaborate during the past 211 years to ensure both entities thrive. But sometimes, conflict happens. An errant circus. A near riot. An attempted rent increase. These are a few of the disputes that have put town and gown at odds over the years.

Ohio University history started when the Ohio General Assembly passed an act establishing  the college on Feb. 18, 1804. The state granted the land because the city had exceeded 5,000 population  – a requirement before any town could establish a university. The city of Athens became a town in 1801.

“Parents and guardians may rest assured that the morals, as well as the education of youth at this academy, will be particularly and strictly attended to by the principle and trustees,” according to an article in the Ohio Gazette and Virginia Herald on Aug. 11, 1808.


This map shows Ohio University’s preliminary plat in 1800. This image was taken from Ohio University’s Mahn Center in the Ohio University Archives Collection by Levi Whipple.

In 1806, Jacob Lindley, an active trustee, drew a plan for a two-story brick academy building 24 by 30 feet, constructed on the east side of College Green. By 1808, the brick building was completed. This modest building would establish Ohio University as a college, but more work had to be done to ensure the university would be operational.


This sketch shows what the first Academy Building might have looked like. This image was taken from Ohio University’s Mahn Center in the Ohio University Archives Collection.

Ohio University’s financial struggles in the early 1800s

In the beginning, the college had one main channel of financial support: rent. OU’s lands were granted by the state of Ohio. In 1804, 150 families lived on university-owned land.


This map shows how Ohio University looked in 1800 to 1813. The image was taken from Ohio University’s Mahn Center in the Ohio University Archives Collection by William E. Peters.

By 1812, the number of students began to increase (from three to 14). A new building was needed. By 1812, Cutler Hall was built for $17, 806.

Cutler Hall and Fence

This photo is a drawing of Cutler Hall. In the center of the building is the bell tower, which was added in 1820. This image was taken from Ohio University’s Mahn Center in the Ohio University Archives Collection.

As the student body and college buildings expanded over the years, so did the amount of debt. By the late 1820s, students paid $5 per semester, which brought in around $1,000 yearly. Annual rents from lands were around $2,700, more than double the revenue from tuition. Operational costs were estimated at $3,850 yearly, around $150 more than what OU was taking in. OU was having some financial issues. Regardless, additions continued to be made …

Town and Gown relations today: rowdy weekends

From city roads to enforcing public safety during large event weekends, the Athens City Council and Ohio University often have to work side-by-side.

Athens Councilwoman Christine Fahl said that in general being a council member in Athens is not that different than being a council person in any other city.

“As a council person you are always balancing your decisions, actions and policies between various players and issues,” she wrote in an email.

Still, demographics do play a role. Fahl explained that the city incurs a lot of extra expenses because of the high student population.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city of Athens has a population of around 23,000. Ohio University has a student body of around 22,000.

“Other towns of similar size are not having to pay tens of thousands of dollars to public safety for overtime due to huge parties for weeks in the spring,” she said.

The parties include bashes such as Palmer Fest. The annual block party is hosted every May and has around 8,000 attendees. Incidents such as the near-riot in 2009, where furniture was set on fire, tasked the Athens City police with working overtime. During the 2015 fest, there were 57 arrests, according to The Post.


This photo shows the police force at Palmer Fest. The photo appeared in an article on The Cleveland Scene in 2012 by Kyle Swenson.

Mike Canterbury, Athens city councilman, said the university and the town often have to come together to work on projects.

Sometimes this cooperation can be difficult when the city and council don’t agree on a project …

Fight over the Green in the mid-1800s

The combination of selling off lands to pay for rising costs and expansion efforts escalated conflict between the town and the college.

On Sept. 16, 1827, OU’s third president, Robert Wilson, recommended to the board of trustees that a fence be built to safeguard what is now called College Green. Wilson believed the dirt from the town was the root of sickness and epidemics that had been affecting the small student body. The fence would keep out the “filth” from the cattle, sheep, and livestock, Wilson argued.

However, there was one major problem: Wilson asked for the removal of College Street to implement this plan. No action was taken. But Wilson was determined to have his fence. On April 15, 1835 — eight years later, Wilson and Rev. Amos Miller attempted to seek a deed from Athens town council relinquishing the Green for the enclosure.

The townspeople appear to have ignored this request.

On June 30, 1835, the circus was in town. Despite Wilson’s warning to keep away from the college campus, a tent was erected in the middle of College Green. This incident led to a lawsuit. Wilson won his case, but he also fueled the already brewing tension between the college and the residents again over the Green, a suit which ended up at the Ohio Supreme Court.

Eventually, a compromise allowed the college to rebuild a fence to cover as much of the area as deemed “necessary” to preserve the sanctity of the college. The fence was built in 1838, 11 years after it was first proposed.


Cutler Hall

This photo is a drawing of Cutler Hall in 1848. This image was taken from Ohio University’s Mahn Center in the Ohio University Archives Collection.

The civil war monument that sits on College Green is a tribute to two battles: the actual Civil War and the one between town and gown. The monument was built by the city, and shows the 94 foot wide strip that used to be considered town commons.


This photo is of the civil war monument. The photo was taken from

Town and gown relations today: Bobcat Lane’s 7-year closure

Bobcat Lane is a road off Richland Avenue running to Baker University Center. The university built the road to improve access to campus for visitors and emergency response vehicles as well as to become a new drop off/pickup site for public transit vehicles, according to Ohio University’s Compass.


This is Bobcat Lane. The photo is from an article in The Athens Messenger. 

The road was constructed in 2008, but it didn’t open until 2015. Athens city officials expressed safety concerns, according to The Athens Messenger. Council members still have those concerns.

Councilman Canterbury said he was concerned that pedestrians wouldn’t look before crossing the road, and the university should help increase public awareness. Councilwoman Michele Papai also was concerned with pedestrians crossing the road but said the situation was difficult because the college wanted it and a written memorandum of understanding between Mayor Paul Wiehl and University President Roderick McDavis that had already been signed years ago.

Attempted rent increase sparks tensions in the 1840s

In 1843, the college tried to resolve its bad financial situation by reappraising its lands. This reappraisal would mean a rent increase for residents living on college land.


This map shows what Ohio University looked like in 1844 to 1910. This image was taken from Ohio University’s Mahn Center in the Ohio University Archives Collection by William E. Peters.

The issue was brought before the Ohio Supreme Court in 1842. Leaseholders argued that their rental agreements were not subject to re-evaluation.

Tensions reportedly rose to the point where Athens townspeople stoned McGuffey in the streets, but there is no proof that this in fact occurred.

In 1843, the court ruled that OU could not reappraise its lands. Furthermore, a limit was imposed on how much rent OU could collect annually. Today, that limit is $4,500 per year.=

Eventually, the college was able to solve its financial problems and the college became a symbol of Athens. During the Hocking Valley Flood in 1873, the townspeople and the university helped rebuild the lands destroyed by the natural disaster.


This photo shows the 1873 flood. The Ridges can be seen in the background. This image was taken from

Athens in the 1900s

During World War II, the city placed more than 2,000 student veterans in homes. After the war, the student population increased to the extent that the college could not provide housing for the influx.

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East Green’s Veteran Housing. This image was taken from Ohio University’s Mahn Center in the Ohio University Archives Collection.

But the main difference between relations in the 1900s is the beginning of active involvement between the city residents and the university in resolving conflicts.

Harry Crewson was OU’s 17th president and prior he was the president of the Athens City Council, elected six times. Crewson was known for resolving conflict between the city and the college.

In September 1971,  OU employees were on strike and near riotous. The mayor of Athens was away at a convention for sister cities in Athens, Greece. Crewson as the acting mayor, had to step in to resolve the conflict.

This recording was used with permission from the Mahn Center Archives oral history tapes by Archivist, Bill Kimok in 1997. The tapes and oral history collection have never been published. Kimok’s article can be found on Ohio University’s Ohio Today. Harry Crewson passed away in 2003.

 Town and gown relations today: memorandums of understanding

“If it weren’t for the university, you wouldn’t have the city,” Councilman Canterbury said.

He talked about the $250,000 pledge that OU gave towards a new fire truck. OU relies on the city’s fire service. The new fire truck will help improve the safety of all residents in Athens.

“Their needs are our needs too,” Canterbury said.


 This image is a copy of the memorandum of understanding signed by Mayor Paul Wiehl and OU President Roderick McDavis. It details the agreement that the college and city work together on accessibility planning for people with disabilities. Taken from Ohio University’s site.

Councilwoman Papai said that in the past 10 years she has seen a lot of improvement in communication between the city and college.

Papai referred to the public meeting in which OU talked about its 2016 Master Plan for expanding the campus.

“In past years it was done in a vacuum,” she explained. The last Master Plan was released in 2006.

Papai also discussed memorandums of understanding between Mayor Wiehl and OU President McDavis. Bobcat Lane and the new fire truck pledge resulted from having memorandums of understanding. Other examples include helping enforce safety procedures for big event weekends like the annual Halloween block party.

“It legitimizes the position by having this agreement,” she said.

All the councilmembers agreed that having the university around provides another source of ideas, and when there is transparency between the two governing bodies (the council and university), the city population as a whole sees the benefit.

OU_VisionOhio_Masterplan_Rendering_550x250 This image shows the 2016 Master Plan. It was taken from OU’s site. 

To trace Ohio University and Athens history, the author used material from Ohio University Mahn Center archives’ building files in addition to two well-known historical books on Ohio University: Betty Hollow’s “Ohio University, 1804-2004: the spirit of a singular place” and Thomas Nathanael Hoover’s “The history of Ohio University.”

Five diverse musicians in Athens, Ohio and where they play

Athens, Ohio may not seem like a music hub, but as it turns out there are many local acts that call this small college town home. Athens Music listed more than 80 musicians in Athens. Here’s a breakdown of five diverse musicians in Athens, Ohio and where they play.

CHRIS KEESEY’s music embodies Athens’ rural atmosphere.

Listen to Keesey play at last summer’s Pawpaw Fest.

Chris Keesey grew up in a family of musicians. He said that he didn’t have much choice but to start playing. He started playing drums and piano at the age of seven, and he’s been doing so ever since.

“In 2012, I had weird voices in my head telling me to write songs and tell stories. So, at age 41, I bought my first guitar and started writing songs. Songwriting has become an unexpected passion and I have written over 100 songs since that time,” Keesey said.

He described his music as rural.

“Most of my songs have a very rural thread and often a very local flavor about them. I love writing the stories of hard living and hard working; whether it’s tragic tales of old mine towns or funny fictitious lovable losers. I am a huge fan of classic country and Americana music. The stories are so strong. I get a lot of inspiration there,” he said.


DJ B-FUNK gets the crowd dancing.

Listen to DJ B-Funk play at the last Halloween block party.

DJ B-Funk is the co-founder of Dave Rave. The locally based music company produces EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and plays at dance events throughout Ohio and the Midwest, according to DJ B-Funk’s Sound Cloud page.


STEVE ZARATAE sings to a variety of audiences.

Listen to Zarate play at the Athens Public Library about photosynthesis.

Steve Zarate came to Athens as a freshman at Ohio University in 1978. He started his musical career singing during open mic nights. Sometimes, he would station himself near the Burrito Buggy with just his guitar in his hands, he said about his early years.

He said that he couldn’t stop playing, because music was just in his nature.

“I didn’t want to be someone that said I wish I could have done something,” he said.

Since 2006, Zarate has been living independently off of his music. He said he has three modes. One is playing his own music that he writes (his CDs are available at local music shops). At other times, he’ll play buy request. “Baby boomer” music is one of his specialties, he said. The last is providing a musical atmosphere at restaurants or events. He’s played at many places in and around Athens: OU Inn, Jackie O’s, and Hickory Creek, to name a few.

“Athens is a rich place for music and there’s lots of people to play to,” he said. For more information about Zarate and his music check out his Facebook Page.


MATT SHONKWILER is an up and coming local musician.

Check out some of Shonkwiler’s tunes.

Matt Shonkwiler plays at Donkey Coffee’s open mic nights and he’s opened for Near Hills, another local act, at Donkey Coffee earlier this year. Mostly, he does home recording. He specializes in digital recording and has a Master’s degree in Media Arts and Studies. He commented that his musical style varies.

“It’s kind of like the weather here. It’s always different. I recorded an EP (extended play is a musical recording that is longer than a single) in May that was kind of poppy and electronic. It used a lot of artificial sounds and a bunch of harmony. Then I recorded a bunch of punk music. Just loud guitars, drums, and my terrible voice. I recently did a handful of covers from old Nickelodeon shows in that style too. I guess I have two styles: sad, electronic-pop music and aggressive rock music,” he said.

When asked what inspires him, Shonkwiler said he felt called to it.

“I don’t have too many other hobbies, so when I spend enough time to myself I’ll start writing music again. I was always a huge Bright Eyes fan growing up. Also Sufjan Stevens. That kind of stuff. But on the other hand, A Wilhelm Scream, NOFX, Against Me!… complete opposite ends of the spectrum,” he said.

Shonkwiler uses the internet to market his musical compilations. He has an EP on CDBaby and a SoundCloud page.


DRUID rocks at venues such as the Smiling Skull Saloon located on Union Street.

Hear Druid play some heavy metal.

“Druid has earned a reputation locally for how loud their shows are and their sharing of vocal responsibilities. They have released a full length self-titled album, as well as a three song EP and have played numerous shows across the state of Ohio in places such as Athens, Columbus, Cincinnati, Lancaster, and Bowling Green,” they state in their Facebook Page.

For a larger list of bands and the venues that they play at check out Athens Music Many upcoming events can also be found on

Athens’ Fiesta Latina brings Latin music to Jackie O’s

The thud of the rhythmic Latin beat echoed out of Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery and traveled nearly up to Richland Avenue Bridge (at least a block away) last Friday night, on November 20. The commotion’s source? Athens’ Fiesta Latina. The event draws crowds so large that there is barely elbow room inside Jackie O’s (big side) pretty much every time it’s hosted.

“People see me sometimes and say, ‘hey Rico, you’re the fiesta Latina DJ,’” said Alex (DJ Rico) Smith, who organizes dance night with the help of Khader Alshaar (DJ Julio).

The event was originally intended for the Latin Association at Ohio University (OU), when it started more than three years ago. But, Fiesta Latina quickly gained a diverse following (most of the attendees last night were not Latin).

(See the Fiesta Latina crowd. View from the stage.)

Fiesta Latina’s founding father was named “Juan Pablo,” Smith explained. When Pablo had to leave Athens to return to Ecuador, Smith stepped in. He’s been hosting the event for three years with Alshaar.

“I took it over from Juan because I think it’s a really interesting thing around here. There’s not much music diversity or Latin DJs,” Smith said.

Smith explained that his mother is from Puerto Rico, so he’s grown up having a Latin influence and listening to Latin music.

The motivation to keep Fiesta Latina alive after Pablo left was there, but Smith didn’t initially have any experience as a DJ. With the help of DJ Julio, Smith has been able to pick up some mixing skills.

(Smith while DJing.)                                                            

Alex (DJ Rico) Smith



Khader was also friends with Pablo and had experience working as a DJ. But, Khader isn’t Latin, he’s Syrian. He said he doesn’t have the “Latin ear.” He stepped in to help Smith run Fiesta Latina by showing him some techniques at DJing that he’s picked up over the years.

Khader started working as a DJ as a hobby years ago, but soon the hobby manifested into passion. He said that he couldn’t stop spending money buying the equipment, which didn’t make his then girlfriend very happy, but he loved DJing.

“I want to keep doing it. Having a 40 hour a week job is not going to stop me from doing an event after 5,” he said.

Khader said that he hopes to run his own studio someday, so he can produce his own music.

 (See Khader showing off his DJ skills.)                               


 (Fiesta Latina gets people moving.)


When Khader was asked why he wanted to help keep Fiesta Latina going, he said it was because the night provides a different sort of atmosphere.

“It’s a different environment; it’s not something you would see every single night in any bar in Athens. It’s a completely different scene. It’s become a social event,” Khader said.

(See this couple show of their Latin moves at Fiesta Latina.)

Part of the $2 cover charge goes to Jackie O’s and the DJs. Smith said that he uses the money to help pay for school expenses. Smith is a nursing student at OU and Khader studies information and telecommunication systems.

Smith said that he would continue hosting Latin dance night while he continues his studies at OU, for another three years. After that, he plans on finding a successor to keep the Latin music scene alive in Athens.

“It’s an event for everybody. If you just want to have a good time and listen to Latin music with an open mind and get a new perspective on music I think you should try it,” Smith said. Fiesta Latina is typically hosted every other month.


Fall fashion in Athens, Ohio

According to Elle Magazine’s “The Complete Fall 2015 Trend Guide,” furry boots, high cuffs and high waists are in this year. Harper’s Bazaar said that suede boots are a must have for fall. Take a look at fall fashion in Athens, Ohio.

IMG_1725[1] IMG_1721[1]









One of Athens’ newest clothing shops on West State Street, BlueTiquehas already started stacking their racks with their fall essentials.  BlueTique opened in August. The store sells clothing, accessories and boots.  There are only eight other BlueTiques in the U.S. Store Manager, Marissa Whaley, described the store’s vibe as, “trendy yet affordable.”











As far as what’s popular this fall, Whaley said it was sweaters and scarves. Scarves at BlueTique range anywhere from $15 to $30. Sweaters go from $25 to $70.

Blanket scarves, infinity scarves or any type of scarf. That’s the number one staple,” Whaley said.

Vests are also very popular, especially with a little bit of fur. Whaley recalled getting a supply of vests on Thursday and was sold out by Saturday (photo shown below on the left).  There are also a lot of options in school colors and the store just recently started selling blankets.

Store hours are from Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m.














The Artifacts Gallerylocated on North Court Street, has several winter accessory options and ponchos. Cassey Spires, a long-time sales associate for the Gallery, said that the line is multi-seasonal. “Anything can be layered,” Spires suggested. There are also dress options in muted colors that could be paired with boots or a heavy sweater to make it fashionable and functional for fall. The style is cute and funky, Spires said.

Store hours are Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.















Figleaf Boutiquealso located on North Court Street, just got their fall shipment in on Wednesday, November 11.

Maggie Fewel, a sales associate, defined FigLeaf’s collection as “boho.”

Dresses are our most popular item,” Fewel said. Other than dresses comfortable clothing to wear for class is also popular (photo of some dress options on bottom left). According to Fewel, the prices range from $8 to $50.

Store hours are Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Sunday from 12 to 4 p.m.


At South Court Street’s The Other Placescarves, jackets and boots were abundant. There were also sweater and skirt combinations in colors that resemble fall foliage. (Here’s the breakdown for the outfit shown in the photo on the left: the sweater (last photo in center) costs $30 and the skirt (on right) ranges from $30 to $40, and lastly the scarf which costs $16).

Store hours are Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.



Athens’ Halloween block party characters

Athens’ annual Halloween block party brought out many spooky characters, despite the off and on rain. The block party is an event which brings out crowds of 10 to 15 thousand people yearly. Whether it is for the allure of the live music or just to dress up as someone else, Court Street was jam packed with crowds of people last Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

For many in Athens or visiting Athens on Halloween night finding the right costume is essential. Some will spend months preparing their ensemble, while others will just pick something up the day of. The most popular costume choices are typically flappers, anything flannel, and patriotic inspired ensembles. Construction workers and army men are also popular for men and women like to dress as pink ladies and little red riding hoods, according to an article in The Athens News.

Here’s a look at some Halloween fashion choices that were spotted during the course of the evening.

Costumes made out of retro wear were popular. Chardae Spencer drove out from Cleveland to attend the block party. She went as a classic 1970s hippie.

Chardae Spencer
Uptown Funk in Downtown Athens

Popular movie icons made guest debuts as the night raged on. Ohio University (OU) journalism master’s student, Ayleen Cabas decided to don an outfit fit for space. Here she is dressed as the Sith Lord Darth Maul.

Ayleen Cabas or the Sith Lord?
(photo taken from Wikipedia).
















Disney pirates were also spotted in Athens. Here is Alex G., a sophomore OU student, dressed as Jack Sparrow.

Alex G. or Jack Sparrow?
(photo taken from Wikipedia)



















Other Halloween block-goers wore outfits that told stories from beyond the grave.

Simeng Sun, OU graduate student, dressed as a Chinese ghost from the early twentieth century. In Chinese the dress is called QiPao. She explained that she brought the dress because her mother told her to pack it in case there would be formal occasion in which she would need a traditional Chinese dress. As it turns out, the Athens block party was just the occasion.

Simeng Sun wearing QiPao

Malika Bryant, OU graduate student, decided to dress as a punky teenage girl who became a zombie. When asked how she entered zombiedom, Bryant responded that it was voluntary recruitment. “Some random person approached her after walking home from Alden,” she said.

The Teenage Zombie


Then there were couple costumes. Isaac Noland, master’s journalism student, and girlfriend Nikki Lanka, OU alum, went as Elaine and Jerry from Seinfeld (on left). Matt Elswick, a former OU student, went as the vault survivor from the video game “Fallout 3” and Allison Hicks, OU sophomore, dressed as a doll because she just thought “it would be cute” (on right).


Seinfeld makes its long anticipated comeback
Video game characters to dolls

















Characters aside, the night also brought out livestock and even a box of teaspoons. Tyler Driscol, OU student, went as a chicken with an outfit he found on


The night brought many memorable costumes and characters to Athens. To find more pics. go to Athens Underground Facebook to see the contestants for the annual costume contest.




Working Athens’ Halloween: a restaurant perspective

Athens’ Halloween weekend typically brings in thousands to the city. As Court Street fills up, restaurant and bar lines are out the door. But does everyone benefit from the influx of people? People behind counter talk about what it’s like to work on block party night.

Preparing for the big night

Cynthia Abdul-Kabir is a manager at Insomnia Cookies. She has served the Halloween Block Party crowd baked goods for the past three years.

The block party is the biggest event that OU hosts each year. Just on the Facebook page, more than 1,500 people have said they were attending in 2015. Previous year’s reports tally in at 15 to 20,000 attendees.

During the festivities, Insomnia Cookies has a steady customer base, considering that they are open until 3 am. Abdul-Kabir said that the hot spot hours are from 9 pm to 11 pm when waves of people start coming in.

Because Insomnia Cookies is not a sit-down restaurant, space can sometimes be an issue.

“Last year, I worked during the day. Most of the day it was just starting up, but right around my closing time people were squeezing to get in,” she said.

Preparations for the big event started back in August.

“No one gets to call off [work]. We also try to let them [the staff] know that it’s going to be big waves and lots of people all night long,” she said.

Mainly, Abdul-Kabir has been working to prepare the drivers, since the restaurant typically delivers all night. Typically, drivers are sent out in the beginning of the night but once it gets too crazy delivers have to shut down.

“We can’t get our drivers off of Court Street. Even just to walk it takes too long,” she said.

Athens’ Halloween Block Party 2014

“It’s a blurry, loud and wild night,”
Abdul-Kabir said.


Dressing the part

For sit-down restaurants, like Jackie O’s business feels like normal, except that the customer base and staff might come dressed in fairy wings or donning a fake mustache.

Isaac Noland at Jackie O’s

Isaac Noland is a master’s journalism student at Ohio University, he worked part-time at Jackie O’s for two years, until the fire on Union Street closed the kitchen while the business made repairs. During his time at Jackie O’s, he worked in the kitchen for three Halloween Block Parties.

“Working in the restaurant end is not terrible because a lot of people don’t want to eat in their costumes. The bars can be really busy but food wise it’s not that bad at night,” he said.

The biggest challenge for Noland and others working Halloween Block Party night is having to miss out on the fun. Noland commented that it’s challenging sometimes to be working an event and not being able to partake in it, but at least he was able to dress up as Bob from Bob’s Burgers last year.


Phillip Szczepanski behind the counter at O’Betty’s

“It’s just another shift,” said Phillip Szczepanski, who is a manager at O’Betty’s Red Hot!

Szczepanski said that block party night is busy, but he’s seen worse.

“It’s a little slower than Homecoming Night, which is easily is one of the busiest nights of the year, but Halloween is right up there,” he said.

At O’Betty’s Red Hot! around 50% more supplies are ordered beforehand and everything is set-up for when the night crew gets in.


 Vandalism and loitering

While most of the restaurants and bars are open late, Donkey Coffee closes early—at 6 pm.

Chris Pyle has been the owner of Donkey Coffee for the past 13 years. He discovered that the increase in business just led to an increase in loitering and theft.

Halloween in Athens does have a reputation for getting rowdy. Most arrests are for disorderly conduct.

“We were open the first two years, but it was basically 200 people in here and no one was buying anything. They were just using the bathrooms and we had tons of stuff stolen and ruined,” he said.

Athens’ street food: behind the mobile restaurant industry

Athens’ street food is a staple menu option for many students at OU shuttling in between classes. It’s hot, it’s quick and you can eat it while standing. But what goes into making that gyro or burrito you can grab in 5 minutes and eat out of your hand? Local vendors talk about how they got started and nature of their trade.

Nisar Shaikh spends most of his days sitting in a fold-up chair behind the counter of his food truck called Ali Babas. His business has been operated since 1988. Shaikh was born in British colonized India in 1944. He has lived in England, Italy and Libya and holds bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science and a master’s in industrial engineering.

Nisar Shaikh
Nisar Shaikh

“In the morning when I wake up, I pray, I make coffee and watch Russian news, Chinese news, and American news. Then I leave the house for my business,” he said on how most of his days begin.

Shaikh decided to open a food truck after seeing a man selling gyros at Ohio State fair in Columbus. At the time, he was expecting his first child and finding steady work in the U.S. wasn’t easy.

Today, the Ali Babas truck is surprisingly well equipped for such a small space. The entire back of the truck is lined by industrial stainless steel appliances. A standard sink, gas range, griddle and cooler are situated side by side.

In the beginning, his truck was nothing more than a shed.

“I only bought the shell,” he explained. To equip his food truck his wife and he used metal found in local dumpsters.

To get a license to vend in Athens City took Shaikh 8 years. Back then, Athens had two separate vending areas. There was an A and B side. The A side required a license, but B side had metered parking.

“I wasn’t sleeping much because I am a responsible person,” he said. To operate his business he said he would leave the house at 4am then wait two hours until he could park on the street.

Now, Ali Babas has become a part of Athens scenery.

“All the men if they are responsible and they are married, they should be responsible for their families,” he said. Shaikh and his wife of 33 years raised 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls.

Marla Rutter
Marla Rutter

Marla Rutter owns the Burrito Buggy, located in front of Class Gates off of Court Street. Her day starts at around 7:30 am getting the truck stocked, the water tanks and everything needed to operate the truck on a daily basis. Her day doesn’t end until 9:30 pm on a weekday. Weekends can be even longer.

On average, Rutter said she serves around 50 to 100 people, depending on the day and the weather. When there are big events, such as Homecoming Weekend, she may have as many as 500 customers a day.

When asked why she thinks people like the Burrito Buggy, Rutter said it was nostalgia.

“It takes people back. They want to relive their freshman or sophomore year,” she said. Rutter said that a lot of her customers that come during events like Homecoming Weekend even get their pictures taken with the buggy.

Rutter also felt an attachment to the buggy, which is why she purchased the brand in 2010.

“I always loved the Burrito Buggy ever since I was a freshman I had been eating here. It came up for sale in 2010 and if they didn’t find a new owner it was going to close. I thought that couldn’t happen, so we bought it in March of 2010,” she said.

For the most part, operating a food truck is like operating a small local owned business. The days are long and there are many costs involved with the day-to-day operation. Rutter explained that her yearly sales range around $200,000 but she has to pay for food, staff, insurance and propane. In addition, Rutter said that the biggest challenge was maneuvering the truck into her vendor licensed spot.

“One of my personal challenges is that I’m not really good at backing this up. We have to come in a certain order,” she explained. “There are 10 spots. We have assigned spots, but we don’t have assigned times to be here.”

Despite obstacles, Rutter has purchased another buggy in addition to helping her daughter open a restaurant which will be included into the Burrito Buggy Corporation.

For more information about Athens food truck industry check out the The Post’s article.