Portland’s food cart scene is changing with the times and the pandemic

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – As downtown Portland struggles to recover from business closures and labor shortages caused by the pandemic and a rise in crime, residents may have noticed a recent drop in traffic at Rose City’s famous food carts.

Since the official opening of the newly relocated Portland food cart pods in July 2021,’carriage blocks‘ have been touted by city officials as a top attraction with the potential to boost downtown business and increase foot traffic – but the once vibrant site has become more vacant in recent months.

“Many of them[food cart owners] who are there right now, working harder than usual to maintain their business,” said Green Loop Friends Director, Keith Jones. “And the state of downtown isn’t what it used to be.”

Jones said Multnomah County’s new location and food cart licensing process may also be contributing to the recent drop in business.

According to Jones, food cart licenses are annual, meaning those who pay to purchase a license in October essentially pay for the full year but must renew in January. He told KOIN 6 News, “We actually have a few applicants who wanted to go into space, but we’re waiting until early in the new year so they can apply for a Multnomah County food cart license.”

Despite the rise in food cart vacancies and a drop in foot traffic, Jones told KOIN 6 News that the Cart Blocks site is far from failing and these trends are a natural part of the food cart business cycle. .

“We are off season for food carts. Typically, this season starts in March, peaks in July, and then kind of comes to a halt,” Jones explained. “October is really the last good month for food cart season, and then they usually go into hibernation – and that’s pre-COVID.”

The Cart Blocks food basket (courtesy of Friends of Green Loop)

According to Jones, Portlanders can expect to see new food carts at Cart Blocks, as well as several big changes this spring.

Friends of Green Loop received an additional $225,000 from city council as part of the fall budget oversight process, which will go directly to contractors for infrastructure and site improvements.

Some of the improvements to The Cart Blocks this spring include the new Veloville stations and racks, additional street and traffic lighting to improve safety and visibility, outdoor seating and a new performance stage.

Rendering of cart blocks (courtesy of Friends of Green Loop)

Jones said the site is also introducing liquor service with one of its new food cart contestants.

“We made a deal with a cart called Rachel’s Double Decker Bus,” Jones explained. “It’s a London bus that’s been turned into a bar… And that’s our way of trying this booze service.”

According to Jones, the organization recently obtained permits from the OLCC and the city to allow Rachel’s Double Decker to serve spirits on the confined double-decker bus.

Rachel's Two-Story Pub
Rachel’s Double Decker Pub (Courtesy of Friends of Green Loop)

The new cart is one of two candidates approved to join the Cart Blocks site this spring. Jones said he now has several applications to consider and only four positions to fill.

Jone’s optimistic view of the Cart Block’s future is supported by data from Multnomah County, which shows county-issued mobile licenses have fallen from 1,021 in January 2021 to 1,093 as of January 3, 2022.

According to this report, the number of restaurant licenses issued also increased from 3,249 in 2021 to 3,377 in January 2022.

“It’s a sign of hope, to see these candidates and these people wanting to go back downtown,” Jones said.

The new carts and many site improvements are set to be available to the public in early March, but Jones is encouraging locals to support the carts that are here now as they struggle during the low season.

“There’s big stuff happening,” Jones said. “But the best thing people can do is support the carts that are there right now because they’re staying open as late as possible just to survive.”

He continued: “We fought to get the site here in two years, the city trusted us and people really want to see these carts back. We’re working hard, but we also really need the people of Portland to show up and come downtown to help us keep these businesses alive, because I think they’re critical to our economic recovery as as we move forward. ”