The pandemic brought about many changes to Portland, and one bright spot has been the food truck boom on the Eastern Promenade. This public space became the perfect gathering place for the community – a place to eat, support small local businesses and convene in the safety of the fresh air. My business, Mr. Tuna, has been parked on the Prom daily since May 2020. However, a deeply flawed program instituted by the city this year upended business for myself and the 14-plus food truck proprietors in the middle of our peak season.

The food truck court that Portland created in the Cutter Street lot this summer as a way to address concerns about excessive trash and pedestrian safety on the Eastern Prom has actually exacerbated those issues, Mr. Tuna’s Jordan Rubin writes. Alexa Pappas hands sandwiches to Dave Johnson and his son, Max, from George’s North Shore food truck on the Eastern Prom in 2020. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer, File

We’ve seen attraction to the Prom – and our revenue – steadily increase every year, allowing us to employ more staff, serve a wider community and expand our brick-and-mortar presence. Projections for a strong summer were within reach. That momentum came to a grinding halt when the interim city manager implemented a short-sighted, unstructured program in response to errant complaints from a small percentage of city residents. The complaints were rooted in concerns about trash, use of generators, emissions and traffic flow.

The city’s response? A since-abandoned lottery program designed to give 10 trucks a coveted spot and leave others out in the cold with no recourse – other than layoffs. Our truck, Mr. Tuna, was among the losers. Lottery winners and losers alike banded together in protest.

In March, a Parks and Recreation Department plan to keep the trucks on top of the hill was unanimously approved by the Sustainability and Transportation Committee. A month later, we found out from an article in the Press Herald (“Pilot program puts food trucks in parking lot off the Eastern Promenade,” April 29) that the interim city manager decided to move the pilot program down to the Cutter Street parking lot. Although all the trucks that applied were ultimately allowed in, it was not the victory it appeared to be. There’s a misconception that all the trucks are doing great. In reality, most won’t even show up anymore because of lack of business.

In one fell swoop, this move drastically disrupted business. We’re all losing money and struggling to keep staff after being forced to cut their hours. The Cutter Street lot is highly inaccessible for families with kids, individuals with disabilities and anyone not up to walking a steep, unpaved hill or venturing a mile round-trip down the sidewalk.

To give you an idea of how this has specifically affected my business, we are down 40 percent in sales since the move. I know other trucks are experiencing similar downturns. This is a direct result of the change in location and the city’s decision to not support local small businesses. Further, those original complaints the city set out to rectify (trash, emissions, parking) haven’t been addressed and arguably have been made worse at the new location. I’ve seen kids running around in between the food trucks because we’re not in a protected area. Parking on Cutter Street is so limited that people either leave out of frustration or double park, causing congestion and endangering pedestrians, especially families.


We have been entirely unsupported by the city – in fact, not once has the city asked us how things are going, or for any feedback on the change. It seems city officials are more concerned with regulating the presence of food trucks than supporting long-tenured small businesses.

“The folks I’ve heard from say that if this is the plan for next year, they will not return,” City Councilor Andrew Zarro recently told the Portland Phoenix. The city stands to lose numerous jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue as a result.

Despite overturning the lottery system with the support of friends, neighbors and protests, Portland food trucks are facing serious turmoil. In the short term, we hope to see you all on Cutter Street this fall. In the long run, we’ll need your support to get this issue on the City Council ballot to get food trucks back on the Prom, where they belong.

Correction: A previous version of this op-ed mischaracterized a March vote on the food trucks’ location. It was an advisory vote of the Sustainability and Transportation Committee.

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