Drivers on the Ohio Turnpike aren't slowing down much to stop at the sit-down restaurants in the new travel plazas along the toll road. In fact, most of them are just looking for a quick bite to eat.
According to the Associated Press, turnpike restaurants such as Max & Erma’s aren't doing as well as the fast-food joints. As a result, the turnpike is having trouble finding sit-down restaurants for plazas under construction.
Sit-down restaurants are part of creating new travel plazas along the turnpike, which are not your typical commercial travel plaza facilities. These turnpike truck stops make themselves appealing to businesses, soliciting them to open up inside the facility. The increased business allows them to offer more restrooms, lounges, game rooms and more food choices.
All 16 plazas on the turnpike are scheduled to be renovated and the toll road is being widened to three lanes in each direction along 160 miles of the 241-mile turnpike between Toledo and Youngstown. The project is being financed by an 82 percent toll increase.
Lines have been long at Burger King, Cinnabon, Starbucks and Sbarro Italian Eatery, while Max & Erma’s has struggled in the new travel plazas.
The AP reported that the Ohio Turnpike Commission expected the sit-down restaurants to attract long-haul truck driver and motorists traveling across country who want a good meal, but it appears that they just to eat and run.
"The volume is not as good as we expected it would be, and we don't know why," said Brian Gallant, vice president of corporate development for HMS Toll Roads Inc., which operates the restaurants at the two travel centers near Fremont.
A factor in their trouble is that Max & Erma's does not have enough space for a full-sized kitchen and can't offer a full menu found at other restaurants, Gallant said. To address complaints about kitchen size, the commission enlarged the sit-downs in the latest travel centers.
Gino Zomparelli, the turnpike's executive director, said he is planning to continue working on making the sites more appealing for operators of sit-down restaurants.