This story originally appeared in Oregon Business Magazine
In case you hadn’t noticed, our food cart scene here in Portland is booming. Heralded as the most vibrant street food culture in the country, if not the world, it’s been breathlessly written about in glossy food magazines from Saveur to serious newspapers like the Guardian. (Sample line: “Portland's food carts have fed millions, launched careers and contributed to urban regeneration.”)
According to Brett Burmeister, managing editor and co-owner of Food Carts Portland, there are currently about 525 year-round food carts in town, more if you count catering trucks and trucks that only come out in summer: to street fairs, the farmers’ market and such.
With a friend about to open her own food cart, I started to wonder, what does it take to launch and run one of these mobile food businesses?
First, obviously, you have to find a cart. Sometimes the cart comes with with the spot its parked on; sometimes you buy (or rent) it separately.
McKinze Cook and Sean Fredericks were Peace Corps volunteers in the Republic of Georgia for two years, and fell in love with the country and its cuisine. When they moved to Portland in 2012 with the idea of opening a Georgian food cart, they checked out all of the main pods to assess their vibes before deciding on the Alder Street pod.
“We knew we wanted to be downtown because it’s such a high traffic area for food carts,” says Cook. “We saw that a cart was for sale, and so we moved on it.” They had to make major improvements to the cart, which had variously turned out pizza, Argentinian fare, and Thai food. In addition to a commercial dough sheeter, which they use to make their khinkali (dumplings) and Georgian flatbread, they upgraded to a commercial fridge and added a flat-top grill and a few burners. They opened their business in March of 2013, calling it Kargi Gogo (good girl).
When Rick Gencarelli opened Lardo in 2010, he ordered a custom-made cart because he wanted to stand out out from the fray. “It was like a little cottage,” recalls Gencarelli, sounding wistful. “The detail on it was so great.” The cart, which was outfitted with a 24-inch flat-top stove, two burners, a counter-top fryer, and a three-basin sink, cost him $25,000. Having a unique-looking cart paid off, though. Whenever Portland food carts got any press, Lardo was always the one that got the photo.
The $25,000 Lardo food cart in all its glory
The cart, which has changed hands a few times since Gencarelli opened his bricks and mortar Lardos, is now owned by Fried Egg I’m in Love on MLK. Gencarelli, who drives by it all the time, says he calls it “Fried Egg I’m in Lardo.”
Continue reading at Oregon Business Magazine.