CITY REGULATORS have tried and failed, once again, to shut down booze sales at a food cart pod—after the Oregon Liquor Control Commission this month summarily dismissed city concerns about three Portland so-called "beer buses" owned by a St. Helens brewery.
The city's latest crusade swept up Captured by Porches, which runs taps at cart pods at N Lombard and Burr, SE 28th and Ankeny, and NE 23rd and Alberta. The city denied the brewery's permit application in January, forcing the buses to close until after the OLCC voted to rule otherwise on March 1.
The city has spent the past year waging a legal and political battle with the OLCC over food cart licenses—part of a larger fight over the city's ability to shape the rules for drinking establishments in its borders. Saying no to Captured by Porches was just another front.
"It's very closely tied to the larger food cart issue," says Theresa Marchetti, the city's liquor licensing specialist in the Office of Neighborhood Involvement.
City politicians and regulators, led by Commissioner Amanda Fritz and her chief of staff, Tom Bizeau, have repeatedly wrung their hands about pee, noise, and boorishness at cart pods where alcohol's on the menu. Never mind that the few carts that have actually won permission to sling booze in the past few months haven't had problems.
The city's understated goal, as the Mercury reported last year, is to persuade lawmakers to force the OLCC into letting only brick-and-mortar establishments have pouring rights.
"So somebody can get a beer with their food. Oh my god," says Suzanne Moodhe, who runs Captured by Porches' beer buses. "I wasn't doing anything wrong. I wasn't doing anything illegal."
But the family-friendly buses have vexed the city for the past two years—even though Moodhe says there's only been one major problem. That was when a woman who bought a growler at the St. Johns pod decided to stay past closing and dip into it while hanging out with another cart owner.
Because the buses are tied to a brick-and-mortar brewery, Moodhe has been allowed special event and temporary licenses to keep beer pouring as many as four days a week all year.
That puts the buses in a different legal class than, say, Cartlandia, the SE 82nd cart pod that earned Portland's first permanent liquor license last spring after jumping through several expensive regulatory hoops. Marchetti, in a January 8 letter to the OLCC obtained by the Mercury, complained that Captured by Porches was using the temporary licenses in an "attempt to circumvent the annual licensing process."
"It's an equity issue," Marchetti told the Mercury this month. "There are other food cart owners who have faced quite a bit of oversight and have really had to delve into their operational guidelines."
The OLCC board, however, was unconvinced. And OLCC spokeswoman Christie Scott says Captured by Porches has never exceeded its legal allotment of open days. Marchetti—who acknowledged, when pressed, that there have been few “substantial” problems at the beer buses—says it's more of a policy issue.
"It's something that needs to be hashed out and clearly defined and applied uniformly," she says.
But Moodhe thinks it's something else. That the buses have managed to run just fine for the past two years, even without intensive security provisions like fences and bouncers, is proof that, maybe, not all of those rules are necessary.
She's hoping to transfer the buses to her own company and apply for an annual license. She says she'll fight to keep things the same.
"I'm going to ask for more freedom," says Moodhe. "I've been doing this for two years, and I know who's buying beer from me. We have a good product and a good reputation in the community."