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May 8, 2013

Portland finally joining food truck revolution

It's a bit late to the party, and there remain some wrinkles to be ironed out, but this summer, Portland finally joins the food truck revolution.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

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Customers queue up at El Corazon food truck, which was parked on Commercial Street in Portland on Sunday.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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Rising Tide to host trucks through summer

Some businesses around Portland are embracing food trucks, hoping they’ll add a little extra taste of fun to their events and draw more people to their businesses.

"We're going to have food trucks every Saturday, and it's going to be a different food truck every week," said Heather Sanborn of Rising Tide Brewing Co. at 103 Fox St. in the East Bayside neighborhood of Portland." Obviously, there will be repeats throughout the summer, but I have six I'm working with now."

The trucks will be parked on a rotating basis in front of the brewery during the business' tasting room hours, noon to 5 p.m. Gusto's Italian Food Truck will be on site this Saturday, and Mainely Burgers will be on tap May 18.

Sanborn said if the trucks prove to be popular, she may expand to Thursdays and Fridays.

She'll also be signing on food trucks for special events.

Sanborn said having food trucks in the area -- the SmallAxe truck will be parked regularly over on Anderson Street -- will be a boon for people who work in East Bayside, who currently have limited options for buying lunch and dinner, because restaurants are not allowed there.

As for whether or not a permit is required for the trucks that will be parked at her business on a rotating basis, Sanborn said she has left that for the truck owners to figure out.

"I don't see where that is actually required anywhere in the law," she said. "This is a major regulatory issue that the food trucks are going to have to deal with with the city. So far, I've kind of kept my nose out of it."

-- Meredith Goad

"We had talked to City Council and said we want trucks to be able to cluster, and they had all agreed that was a good idea," said Ben Berman, owner of Mainely Burgers. "And then the ordinance came out, and it said you can't. I don't know why that happened. It was sort of a surprise, but truly we're not mad at anyone. We're frustrated that this hasn't been resolved yet, but happy that some progress has been made."

The situation is clearly making food truck owners unhappy, but most are limiting their public comments to low-level grumbling, both because they still have to work with the city and are hoping someone in power will take notice and help them fix things.

In referring to the unexpected permit fee, they use phrases like "double dipping" and call it "a little unfair."

"That does come into play when you move from location to location," city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg acknowledged. "I will say that these are still kind of new rules and regulations. This is kind of a new concept that we're applying to existing ordinances. So when issues like the one that you've raised come up, it kind of forces us to examine if how we're applying it is fitting in with the goal of supporting the industry."

Clegg said the permits are required because the food trucks are being treated like tents and other temporary structures you might set up on your property for a special event.

"We knew when we enacted the rules that there probably were going to be some things that need to get adjusted as we learned more about how the industry operates," Clegg said. "And this was a good one to point out. We recognize that for someone who's trying out their business, and trying out a location, that this is a challege for them."

Sutton said the loose coalition of food truck owners that has formed in Portland has been trying to get the permits and the clustering issue brought up as an immediate concern at City Council for weeks, "and it hasn't happened yet." She just found out that Christopher Hall, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber, will be meeting with the mayor soon to discuss these two issues.



These glitches could just be considered a learning curve for the city, but they also point to larger concerns that Portland is making it too difficult for food trucks to work here.

"Right now, I think the majority of the rules that are on the books have been influenced by those who are concerned about the impact of the food truck revolution on the standard brick-and-mortar restaurant," said Carson Lynch, owner of the Gorham Grind truck. "I don't think that's necessarily justified. I think it's fear of the unknown. If you look to other more developed cities, you'll see that with food culture, there's a 'rising tide lifts all boats' sort of thing. If you're selling falafel in front of a barbecue place, you're just going to bring more consumers in general to that neck of the woods, and that's a good thing. So the code is written based on some fear."

Jim Chamoff, owner of Gusto's Italian Food Truck, has been running his business since December and has already found it difficult to work within the city's rules.

"The biggest issue we're having quite frankly, is Portland," he said. "They didn't make it easy for anybody to do a food truck in Portland. It's very difficult. We can't go in the heart of the city where all the foot traffic is, so if you want to find us you have to walk a block or two in a different direction and you have to be looking out for us. We're not in the center of it. That changes after 10 p.m.; we can pretty much go anywhere. For the late-night crowd, it works pretty well."

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Additional Photos

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Chefs Joseph Urtuzuastegui and April Garcia at work in the Corazon kitchen.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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Owners Jack Barber, pictured, and Ben Berman will open Mainely Burgers 2.0, a Portland version of the truck they’ll continue to operate at Scarborough Beach.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


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