KATU News is reporting this evening that the City of Portland will be “cracking down on structures related to food carts.” The structures they speak of are the awnings and decks some carts have built so patrons don’t have to stand in the rain. KATU did a whole series of stories last week arguing that the carts have an unfair advantage against restaurants. Interestingly enough, the two restaurants they interviewed were Huber’s and the new Morning Star Cafe. Huber’s menu for lunch is $10 or more and offers alcohol. Morning Star has beer and video poker. Which carts charge over $10 for lunch? How many carts offer alcohol and video poker? Unfair or just a different business model?
Needless to say, the city does have a role in ensuring safety and if the carts are building awnings or structures that could endanger patrons, the city should be monitoring that. Yet, I call shenanigans on the city’s sudden change of heart. Was this due to undue pressure from the restaurant lobby or because of KATU’s story. In last week’s video, Commissioner Randy Leonard admitted he was unaware of structures being built even though some of them were directly across 4th avenue from the Bureau of Development Services, his agency, and the agency that issues permits and is responsible for inspections.
As you know, we are here to promote the carts and tell their stories. Carts have been a fixture in this city for decades and are part of the city fabric, bringing people together and building community. In Portland, we do not have food carts operating illegally like in other cities. I credit and thank the inspectors and hard working individuals at Multnomah County for that success. We have 600 carts because we as a city and a community have chosen not to regulate them in the ways other cities do. This lack of strict regulation created the lots we now have both old and new and put Portland on the map as the #1 Street Food city in the world. Portland has garnered attention from major national and international new outlets and magazines. We are a model for other cities who are working to create a culture of street food and empower entrepreneurs who are chasing the elusive American Dream. Tourist come to Portland for the carts and the cuisine they offer.
I’m proud to live in this city and call myself a longtime Portlander, yet I hope the city leaders don’t use this one issue with structures/decks to shutdown or over-regulate a thriving industry that employs many and has become part of our city’s culture, persona and history.