The Falafel Mafia food truck was the only food truck in the parking lot on the Eastern Prom on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Portland is seeking feedback on its food truck pilot program on the Eastern Prom as the first season of having food trucks in a parking lot on Cutter Street draws to a close.

The city launched two surveys Monday – one for the public and one for food truck operators – in an effort to gain insight into how well the pilot program worked. Interim City Manager Danielle West is expected to bring draft recommendations to the Parks Commission and City Council committees after the surveys close Oct. 14 and will then issue a final decision on the future of the program.

“At this point we’ve already gotten a lot of feedback,” city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said. The surveys launched Monday morning, and as of 4:30 p.m., Grondin said more than 540 people had responded.

She said it’s still early to say how effective the program was and what next steps the city is considering. “We haven’t reviewed all of our own findings yet and I think we’re really waiting to review all the feedback we’ve received so far until the two surveys are done,” Grondin said.

The pilot program relocating the food trucks from the Eastern Prom roadway to the middle lot on Cutter Street started June 15 in response to concerns about trash, pedestrian safety, noise and environmental impacts stemming from the growing presence of food trucks on the Eastern Prom in recent years.

On Monday, just one truck was parked in the space designated for food trucks in the middle lot on Cutter Street.


Cameron Gardner, co-owner of Falafel Mafia, said he’s been disappointed with the pilot. “It hasn’t gone well,” Gardner said. “The only reason I’m here today is because I hadn’t booked any events.”

Gardner said his sales are down 30 percent to 40 percent compared to last year. He said business was slightly better over the summer during the height of the tourism season, but that overall the new location doesn’t have the same visibility and accessibility.

Cameron Gardner, co-owner of the Falafel Mafia food truck, says the location has not worked well and that he has had to lay off two employees because his business is down about 30 percent. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“If you look up there, there’s people going for walks and every car driving by sees the food trucks,” Gardner said, gesturing to the prom roadway uphill from his spot in the middle parking lot. “People are thinking, ‘I can stop. I can park right here and grab a bite.’ We don’t have that down here.”


Visitors to the Falafel Mafia truck Monday provided mixed feedback on the pilot program.

Kathy Preston of Falmouth said she could see benefits to both the main prom roadway and the Cutter Street lot. “It’s kind of safer down here to get food, but I think there’s a lot more activity on the top,” Preston said.


Ian Brown of South Portland also was ordering lunch at the truck Monday. He said the “vibe was much better at the top of the street.”

“I get it,” Brown said. “People up there with multimillion dollar real estate don’t want to see food trucks, but I do think they were probably in the minority. It was a great option, especially through the pandemic, to have healthy food outside. … It’s pretty sad that only one truck is here today and I think that speaks volumes to what is going on.”

But Jenna Neil of Portland said she’s been visiting the food trucks more since they moved to the Cutter Street lot. “It’s just been a bit more convenient,” Neil said. “I come down here and I like to walk along the beach a bit. I park down here and get food and go sit on the beach versus stopping up there and then coming all the way down here.”


In addition to Gardner, other food truck operators also have expressed discontent with the pilot program.

Jordan Rubin, who owns and operates Mr. Tuna, a mobile sushi bar, said Monday that his truck saw an instant drop in business when the trucks were moved to their new location on June 15.


“We were hopeful it was just an initial thing and that after making the move down it would have gotten better, but it never did,” Rubin said. “We went through the whole season kind of hoping things would turn around, and then after July when it didn’t, it was pretty obvious it was the location that was the issue for us.”

The pilot program runs through Nov. 15, but Rubin said his truck has only been at the Cutter Street lot a handful of times over the last month. He said he had to reduce staff and the hours they worked this summer, and that his staff also made less in tips than in previous years.

On Saturday, Rubin said the Mr. Tuna truck went to a brewery rather than the prom. “It was pretty bad during the season, but we’re seeing it amplified now on the bookends of the season,” he said.

The pilot program was developed last spring with the input of residents, truck operators and city officials. The council’s sustainability and transportation committee, though not required to vote on the issue, voted unanimously last March to support a different proposal that would have created a seasonal “food truck court” on the prom roadway between Turner and Congress streets.

But West, the interim city manager, said the Cutter Street option was favored by most people who provided public comment on the issue, and she believed it would most effectively balance the needs of residents, business owners and visitors.

Diane Davison, who lives a few blocks from the prom and was involved in organizing a petition urging the city to utilize the Cutter Street option, said Monday that she thinks the pilot went well and the only issue was that it appeared the trucks were not filling all their designated spaces on a daily basis.

“There needs to be some sharing of the park, which is ultimately the goal,” Davison said. “The food trucks need to share the park with the other users and other stakeholders, whether it’s children at the playground, people who want to go birding or people who want to get their dinghies and go sailing.”

Grondin said the city hasn’t made any final decisions yet on the next steps.

“I think we’ve said all along that as the steward of this public space we have to keep all its users in mind,” she said. “We can’t place one user higher than another and can’t do things that are detrimental to the space. We understand and appreciate the feedback from the vendors, but they’re not the only group we’re beholden to.”

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