Portland’s Downtown Food Cart Pods To Close

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Today, The Oregonian reported that the Goodman Family has announced one of their most ambitious projects for downtown Portland. The  Ankeny Blocks will comprise of 11 new towers in and around Burnside to Washington from 6th to the waterfront. 11 towers! Let that sink in for a minute. Where will they all go?

If you don’t know the Goodman family, over the last century they accumulated a vast portfolio of downtown real estate in the form of surface parking lots and built a parking empire named City Center Parking. The land is owned by the family and others, but the parking management company was sold to a Canadian firm a few years ago. The Goodmans now will affect significant change both to the Portland skyline and to the density of downtown. And that means 60-70 food cart vendors will need to find new homes.

Portland Food Carts

5th and Stark Food Cart Pod

The food cart lots at SW 5th and Stark (Portland’s oldest and original food cart pod,) SW 3rd and Washington and SW 2nd and Stark will be no more. The development calls for those lots to become mixed use buildings. It was inevitable in the era of ever increasing development and evolution of this city we call home, I just wasn’t prepared to read on a Saturday morning that 1/2 of the food cart pods in downtown Portland will see their demise sooner than later.

Now I have a call to action. Portland is unique with street food in this country. Most every other city has food trucks who move about in and out of the city center, park and serve their patrons. Portland doesn’t due to an outdated “no business in the right of way” law enforced by Portland Bureau of Transportation. In cities like Boston, Washington DC and Seattle, parking zones in the city center are identified where food trucks are allowed to park and sell for a set amount of hours. If the food cart vendors in downtown Portland want to continue serving the downtown crowd, laws need to be changed. Food cart owners need to come together and get in front of City Council and let them know that Portland street food scene is part of the city fabric. Every city has it, so as we develop, we need to find a way to keep it.

If there are any vendors who want to lead this charge, contact me, Brett Burmeister, and I will help you identify the city codes that need to be discussed and who to talk with.

In the past 3 months, 2 food cart pods have closed as a result of development and 1 more will close soon. While these are on the east side and other food cart pods have opened, it is disturbing to see so many vendors displaced all at once. Portland’s street food scene is now going to experience a change that may portend a sad future for the vendors, employees and eaters. Hopefully, our city leaders can see the value in small business and adjust accordingly.

Portland Food Carts Year in Review – 2015

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food cart review 2015

Breakfast from Henry’s Diner

As we bring 2015 to a close, I think back about all the amazing dishes I enjoyed and people I met. Just a year ago, as we sat around wondering what 2015 would bring, did anyone predict a 6 month summer? In talking with vendors last spring, many commented that winter never actually arrived, providing them with strong sales throughout the year. As 2015 bids farewell though, the winter Portland is famous for has arrived with a vengeance. That said, 2015 was another crazy eventful year for Portland’s food cart scene. One may think of 2015 as the Year of the Pod. Here are some highlights.

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Numbers:

Every year, I enjoy looking back at the changes that have occurred using data. Growth continued, yet we also saw some loss, mainly in the form of Pods.

  • Last count from Multnomah county puts the number of mobile food units – carts, trucks, trailers – at around 848. Up again from 2014.
  • If you’re out and about seeking out food carts, you may not find all 900. By my last count, there are about 420 available in lots throughout the city. Many gather in organized pods, but there are more than a few who strike out of their own.
  • 2015 saw an increase in the number of fully mobile food trucks. Yes, in the city famous for our street food, we have few vendors who are fully mobile. In the last few years, vendors have launched trucks to visit corporate parks, weddings, festivals and catered gigs. By our count, there are now 60-65 fully mobile trucks roaming the streets of Portland.

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PODS  

2015 was the year of the pod. There are now over 40 organized pods in the city and suburbs. Happy Valley and Aloha included.

  • Tidbit, which opened in 2014, evolved into one of the city’s destination pods this summer with live music, great food, beer and non-food vendors.
food cart review 2015

The Portland Mercado

  • The Portland Mercado, a first for Portland opened in summer with 10 vendors serving up delights from Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Cuba and more. Truly an amazing project to showcase these vendors, but also create a micro-enterprise solution for budding entrepreneurs.
  • Cartlandia on 82nd now boasts almost 30 carts year around along with an onsite pub with live sports and music.
  • Happy Valley Station opened in November to huge crowds. If you haven’t visited, get HVS on your bucket list. A pavilion built to house indoor seating, a kids play area and a beer/cider cart with 40+ taps, the roof extends over the fronts of the food carts there providing much needed cover when it rains. With 30 vendors open daily, there is a dish for everyone in the family.
  • Piedmont Station brought a great selection of new vendors to NE Killingsworth. Beer too.
  • Piknik Park in Sellwood launched later summer with 9 vendors and beer and wine. Our first Malaysian cart calls the pod home.
  • The Gantry in South Waterfront took over an underutilized space which use to be the main drag down that way. Six vendors sit under a monster ship gantry. Scout Beer Garden slings brews across the street.
  • Pollo Norte, while a restaurant, decided to open a pod on their property on NE 42nd.
  • The City of Milwaukie acted boldly in identifying a parcel they want to develop as a food cart pod. In my dealings with cities and street food, this may be the first city driven effort to create a designated space for carts. We’ll keep you posted on the progress in 2016.

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The FOOD

As an eater, how does one pick favorites. On any given day, I get asked about my favorite cart. Tough question with so many options to choose from and more opening on a regular basis. I usually just provide a top 5 or maybe a list of those vendors I would bring Aunt Gini to. That said, I did enjoy a couple of dishes that simply blew me away and seared flavors into my taste memory.

food cart review 2015

Tajine fro La Camel

La Camel on SW 9th and Washington served up one of my favorite dishes of the year – Moroccan Kefta Tajine. I can still remember that first bite and the burst of flavors from this vibrant dish. Moroccan seasoned kefta (seasoned beef meatballs) in a rich tomato sauce with fresh chopped white onion, olives and topped with two fried eggs, cheese crumbles and chopped parsley. So good, I’ve returned for a few other Tajines throughout the year. Thank you Karim.

food cart review 2015

Chicken and Guns

Chicken and Guns. Just the name brings people to the cart. A project by seasoned food cart owner Dustin Knox (Perierra Creperie) and Woodsman alum Todd Radcliffe – the goal was to present the street food the two had enjoyed on the back roads of Central American while on surfing trips. The chicken is sublime – charred to perfection, moist and tasty, almost sinful, with a rich Peruvian style sauce. Add a fried egg because you can. Roasted potatoes and fresh greens if you need veggies, but the star of the show is the Latin-inspired chickens old-fashioned grilled over mesquite and oak. Cartopia at SE 12th and Hawthorne.

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Brick and Mortar

As the economy warmed, the opportunity for cart vendors to spread their wings arose. Here are just a few of the vendors who opened Brick and Mortar shops in 2015.

  • The Big Egg on NE Alberta and 30th
  • Big-Ass Sandwiches on NE Fremont
  • Thrive Pacific NW in Alameda
  • Taco Pedaler on NE Broadway
  • Cackalack’s in Bethany
  • Burrasca on SE Clinton
  • ChickPeaDX at the Zipper in NE Portland
  • RUA at the Zipper
  • Pulehu Pizza has opened at The Lumberyard on 82nd
  • HOME, A Bar – a bar/restaurant by Bro-Dogs and Burgers and Brett of Food Carts Portland – SE 7th and Morrison
  • Gonzo took over the kitchen at Bar XV in Old Town
  • The Cheese Plate owners take over the kitchen at Culmination Brewing one day a week with vegan cuisine.
  • Koi Fusion – everywhere

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News and highlights from 2015:

  • More than a few vendors closed this past year. Some to open restaurants, others to tackle new adventures. Here are some we’ll miss – Kargi Gogo, Ugarit Mediterranean (10 years), Italian Market, Gaufre Gourmet Waffles, Brunch Box (restaurant opened), Minizo, Burrasca (restaurant opened), Delicios Romanian
  • Henry’s Diner opened in Carlton in wine country. Such a great location for breakfast, lunch or just to rest while visiting one of Oregon’s magical regions.
  • Churros Locos enjoyed international stardom at the World Street Food Congress in Singapore in April. With a line up of 30 vendors at the street food jamboree, Daniel and Isabel and a team of assistants cranked out almost 10,000 churros and churro sundaes to the attendees over the course of five days. A wonderful representation of Portland’s street food vendors.
  • An early morning fire at the PSU pod in July close five carts, destroying a couple completely. Those vendors who’s carts were damages have rebuilt and reopened, yet two have yet to recover.
  • Portland’s Queen of the Carts – Nong Poonsukwattana – continued to wow us with an amazing performance on Chopped Impossible in October. While she didn’t win, social media believed she should have. Keep up the great work Nong.
  • An interesting story broke in February about two food carts in downtown purchasing stolen meat and then reselling it to customers. Chop Chop and Ren’s Bubble Tea owners were arrested in the case and the carts eventually left the lot. Chop Chop has since re-opened in SE Portland.
  • Smoke Buddy, a mobile marijuana cart, launched in August, rolling around and giving away joints due to a unique loophole in the law. According to the owners, they had the legal right to dispense, yet by the end of August, state authorities were looking into their practices. Maybe in 2016 we’ll see a true pot cart or truck.

What a year. For the past seven years, I’ve enjoyed sitting down in December and rounding up the year’s news. 2016 will be upon us shortly with a new crop of eager vendors showcasing their wares. Street food in Portland isn’t going away due to development. It will evolve and change, but never disappear. Happy New Year and best wishes from Food Carts Portland.

Food Cart News – December 2015

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Some news on Portland’s Food Cart scene for December

food cart news portland

Happy Valley Station

Happy Valley Station has opened. The much anticipated for cart pod in Happy Valley in Clackamas County boats space for 30 carts and offers up indoor seating in their majestic pavilion. The pavilion is a work of art, offering indoor seating with a beer purveyor with 45 taps, coffee and gelato. Further, the roof of the pavilion extends over the front of the carts, providing cover while ordering and awaiting the tasty dishes. A visit on opening weekend presented long lines, but happy faces. Cuisine offerings include Lao, Filipion, Southern, Sushi, Chinese, and even a candy cart for the kids. According to social media, parking has been an issue, so be prepared to walk from neighboring streets. Well done Happy Valley. More details here.

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When one lot opens, another closes. As of December 1, Q19 at NW Quimby and 19th has closed and the vendors have left the lot. The lot will be developed in the near future. Good luck vendors.

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Gonzo, our favorite Israeli street food, has resurfaces as the food purveyor for Bar XV in old town. Open Monday-Saturday, 4pm-12am and offering up their signature shwarma fries and falafel.

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Juniper has moved. The cart formerly of SW 3rd and Washington has moved to South Waterfront to The Gantry. Find them there daily serving up their delicious locally sourced dishes.

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The Portland Bazaar brings in a number of vendors this weekend at Jacobsen Salt Co in SE Portland – Kim Jong Grillin’, Lardo’s Original Cart, Pip’s Original Donuts, and more. Holiday shopping with your favorite vendors. December 12-13 at 602 SE Salmon. More details at PortlandBazaar.com

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The year is quickly coming to a close. Watch for our year end round up in the coming week. Keep on supporting street food.

Portland Food Cart News for September

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Some tidbits of food cart news for September:

Food Cart Pod Closures – we knew it was coming. With property values skyrocketing in the city, some food cart pods are going the way of development. Good Food Here in SE 43rd and Belmont will close soon and vendors are already seeking new locations. A new pod is sprouting up across the street. More details on that when it comes together. Q19 in NW Portland is closing. We’ve been contacted by multiple vendors there about the lot being developed in the near future and they are being evicted.

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New Food Cart Pod in Sellwood. Piknik Park Food Carts and Beer is now open on SE 11th and Tacoma in Sellwood. The new pod has attracted a great lineup of vendors including:

  • Bent-Lee’s Kitchen – brats, schnitzel, tacos
  • City Slickers – specialties from cities around the USA
  • Devin’s Dive – plant based grub
  • Essential Whole Juice
  • Polli-Tico – rotisserie Peruvian chicken
  • SushiLOVE – vegan sushi
  • Straits Kitchen – Malaysian
  • Village Patisserie – French inspired bakery

The lot is new, so hours are still being flushed out, but expect vendors to follow the east side model doing lunch and dinner during the week including weekend service.

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portland food cart news

Mini Mobile Bike Carts

Are you shopping for a mobile unit? There are many options – trucks, trailers, buses, vans. OR, you could go with a bicycle trailer solution. Mini Mobile Bike Carts is located down in the central east side industrial district where they build custom bike trailers that can be used for food service. So cool. Owner Jason Brown launched a Kickstarter to grow the business and bring his custom trailers to the masses. Maybe we’ll see a few roaming the city in the coming months.

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New Vendors:

  • The Cluck Truck – SW 10th and Washington
  • Small Pharaoh – expanded to SW 3rd and Washington
  • MFTasty-  N Mississippi and Beech
  • Pineapple Bliss – Cartlandia
  • Tōv: an Egyptian/middle eastern themed coffee cart – SE 32nd and Hawthorne

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The City of Milwaukie is looking into food cart pods. On September 22, the city will host a forum to discuss bringing organize pods to the city. If you’re from the area and want to have a voice in the decision, head on down to the Public Safety Building at 3200 SE Harrison St. at 6pm on the 22nd. The conversation will include identifying publicly owned land to be used to host vendors. The city also has a survey going if you can’t make the public meeting.

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Labor Day usually signals the end of the summer sales season for the food carts in town. With the weather changing and tourists back home, sales are down for many. But we’re Portlanders. We have parkas. Head on out to your favorite food cart or pod this week and let them know you’re still a customer. Thank you for supporting Portland’s dynamic and ever evolving street food scene.

Feast Brunch Village September 20

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Portland loves brunch. Saunter down any one of the city’s commercial streets on a Saturday or Sunday and you’ll discover a gaggle of citizen eaters awaiting their next Eggs Benedict or Chicken and Waffle plate. Portlandia highlighted our brunch culture and many of my friends claim the Portland economy is partially based on brunch. We embrace it. We love it. We stand in the rain for it. Brunch! Brunch! Brunch! Chant with me.

Feast Portland

Brunch Village 2014 for Feast

When Feast announced the Sunday Brunch Village in Pioneer Courthouse Square, a collective squee echoed across the land. Presented by Tillamook Creamery and Alaska Airlines Visa Signature the park will be resplendent with Bloody Mary bars, biscuit egg n’ cheese sandwiches, Texas tacos, and yes, fried chicken and waffles. Chefs bring their A game to events like this and all for us eaters. Featured Chefs include Melissa McMillan of Sammish in Ashland, Jason French of Ned Ludd, Rick Gencarelli of Lardo (which use to be a food cart), Nate Smell of Pip’s Originals and Sarah Shafer of Irving Street Kitchen to name a few. Oh, and Bloody Marys, Mimosas and artisan coffee and tea for all.

Brunch Village is September 20 from 11-2. Tickets are still available at FeastPortland.com. Feast Portland’s charitable partners, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon and No Kid Hungry work to end childhood hunger in Oregon and across America. Feast Portland donates festival net proceeds to the charities and over the last three years, has donated more than $162,000.

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