PORTLAND — Food vendors haven’t taken advantage of the appetites built up by runners on Back Cove, walkers on the Western Prom and kids at the Kiwanis Pool.

Until last year, they had good reason, said Joe Dumais, Portland’s parks and cemeteries coordinator.
Dumais learned how hard it was to get a permit to sell food in the city’s parks a couple of years ago, when he tried to help a woman put a hot dog cart in Bell Buoy Park on Commercial Street.

“We realized it was going to be the next season by the time she was going to get into the spot,” he said.

Although Dumais’ department has since streamlined the process, food vendors have yet to get interested.

For the second year, the city has issued a request for proposals to sell food in selected park locations.

Only Michele Castner, owner of Shelly’s food cart in Eastern Promenade Park, applied last year, and she renewed her spot this year. No one else had submitted a proposal as of Wednesday.

The city will accept bids through Tuesday. Dumais said there’s no minimum bid, although a $100 deposit is required. A license for a push cart costs $295 and the application fee is $35.

“We’re hopeful that someone will find a good spot and make a go of it,” Dumais said.

The openings are in Deering Oaks, Lincoln Park, Harbor View Park, Back Cove Trail, the Western Promenade and the Kiwanis Pool.

The new process doesn’t preclude vendors from applying for other spots in city parks. They would just have to do it the old way.

Before last year, if a vendor had interest in a spot in a park, the city would first have to approve the location, then issue a request for proposals, said Dumais. “So there was a chance you wouldn’t get the spot, even though you were the one who initiated it,” he said.

Castner has been the only person in recent years to go through what she called “a painstakingly long process.” A school psychologist in Westbrook, she has spent the past four summers selling vegetarian and meat hot dogs and sausages on the Eastern Prom.

“I don’t think people realized that it was an option,” she said, explaining why she believes other vendors haven’t set up in parks.

She said she does it because she loves the people – not because it’s necessarily lucrative. Last year, Castner said, she cut down her hours and took a loss for the season.

Vendors in Westbrook have had a hard time making money in the city’s Riverbank Park on Main Street, where seven spots are available for food carts.

One hot dog stand has been a fixture in the park for years, but others have come and gone quickly, said City Clerk Lynda Adams.

“They try it for a season, and it just doesn’t work,” she said.

Cape Elizabeth opened Fort Williams Park to food vendors for the first time last summer as a way to make the popular tourist attraction more self-sustaining. The minimum bid was $2,000, and the town received about a dozen applications for three spots, said Public Works Director Bob Malley.

For this summer, the minimum bid was raised to $4,000 and a fourth spot was added. The four vendors that applied were awarded the spots.

Sarah Sutton, who will run the Bite Into Maine food trailer at Fort Williams for a second year, said she and her husband are interested in expanding their business into Portland and believe Deering Oaks would be an ideal location during the farmers markets on Saturdays.

The Suttons’ trailer, which serves six kinds of lobster rolls, is bigger than what’s now permitted in the city, though an effort is under way to allow food trucks in Portland. If that change is made, and includes parks, Sutton said they would be interested in applying.

“For us, it would be a great opportunity,” she said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at [email protected]


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