The first review I wrote for the Mercury was of Wayne’s Chicago Red Hots in North Portland. Randy Sanders (who named his shop after his dad) had just opened his storefront in NE Portland after years of operating a cart in Warren, Oregon. Wayne’s is little more than an indoor food cart. Sanders, sticking with what he knows, looks to have built the dining area around a large central cart-like kitchen, the huge bay of windows along the south wall faithfully provides the feeling of dining outdoors. Yet, there are some restaurant comforts: flat screens for Cubs games, a long bar with fairly comfy seating, walls plastered with Chicago sport memorabilia, and of course a ceiling to keep out
inclimate inclement weather.
I’m happy to report that over a year since that review, I can still go to Wayne’s to get a red hot, watch the Cubbies play, and sip a cheap Old Style. For Sanders, moving indoors has certainly worked out.
Since that review I’ve seen other transient restaurateurs move their game to more permanent digs. Pine State Biscuits went from Farmers Market Cult Favorite to National Media Sweetheart in about 2 seconds after hanging their shingle on Belmont. Farmers Market pizza purveyor Tastebud moved into a lovely space on Milwaukee (which reminds me that I need to check out their spring menu). Also, popular PSU pizza cart Al Forno Ferruzza has found a storefront on Alberta. And who could forget No Fish! Go Fish!, operating two carts and a Hawthorne restaurant. In at least one case, it was just the chef that moved: Kir Jensen of the Sugar Cube dessert cart was hired on at Two Tarts Bakery in NW Portland just months ago.
With new carts opening at a steady clip, I’m curious how many of the operators have indoor aspirations. For some, it seems that they are just shy of being an actual restaurant. The Grilled Cheese Grill, for instance is just a foundation short of being what I’d consider an immobile eatery. Their lot is expertly manicured and their indoor bus seating lacks only table service.
The cart to restaurant plan would seem like a good one. What better way to get your game down than cooking out of a mobile kitchen with low overhead for a few hours each weekday (or in the case of Farmer Market stalls, two days a week)? It’s a great way to build buzz, as well as a customer base, while banking the capital to put money down on a lease.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that restaurants are somehow better than carts. In fact, I enjoy the charm of a cart, and the fluidity and creativity often presented in their menus. Still, there are those who just wont eat out of a cart (elitist bastards) because of perceived food safety issues, or bias towards comfortable dining and eager-to-please wait staff. Personally, I feel a cart has an agility that just can’t be matched by a restaurant with a full time staff, regular hours, more bills, etc.
Still, its very likely that many of the carts we love and cherish will attempt to move off the streets in years to come. I wonder, Blogtownies, is there a cart on the street you’d like to see transition to restaurant? Why? Hit the comments.