PDX Arctic Blast 2024 has been a wintery mix. The snow's not deep, but the temperature held below freezing for four days nonstop. The roads are as plowed as they've ever been, but downed trees knocked out sizable sections of the city's electrical grid. Portland Public School parents scramble for childcare. The housebound keep losing power and heat. The county's warming shelters set a new record, on Tuesday night, for the number of people served. 

And if you own a food cart or a similar small business, this unplanned city shutdown could very well hit like a one-two knockout punch.

"We in the small business community call this week a catastrophic disaster," wrote Han Ly Hwang of Korean barbecue food cart Kim Jong Grillin. Hwang's cart is a staple of the Portland food scene—perhaps currently best known for his fast food-inspired specials, like munchwraps and bulgogi burritos—but he's also survived the wringer of running a small business for over a decade.

Hwang frequently (and with humor) shares the struggles of running a cart on Kim Jong Grillin's Instagram account. On Tuesday, he warned that unexpected events, like the ice storm Portland recently weathered, can be the final blow in a small business' fight for survival. "Ice, snow, no power, can't open, can't plan for the next week… Some of us… might call it quits for good," Hwang wrote.

"It's not just food trucks, it's restaurants too," Hwang told the Mercury. "I can tell you the approximate succession of events. It's generally around this time, around January. The business has been struggling. They try their hardest to stay alive. And then something like this happens. And there's like two roads: Borrow more money, maybe take on one of those insidious fucking payday loan type situations. Pray you'll make it through, and you can pay everything back. But then you slowly realize, while you're paying all that back during your busy season, you're just spinning your wheels to be back to square one, at the end of the year. Right now, in January." Faced with all that, the other option—giving up—begins to look appealing.

"I don't think there's any small business that has a reserve of money squirreled away for unexpected events like this," Hwang continued. "Unexpected days closed are the worst because you've already bought product, and that's going to go bad. The power went out, and all your product went bad."

Mild weather is one of the pillars of Portland's food cart scene, but as climate change creates heat waves and wildfires in the summer, it may also intensify our winter storms. "The weather in Portland, especially for the last three to four years, has been absolutely on dummy mode," Hwang said.

The city's lingering frozen streets are a problem, not only in terms of foot traffic, but because Hwang has to wait for his pipes to thaw. "What I need are two 40 degree days," he explained. "There's a protocol I have to follow. If I'm lucky, nothing cracked. Nothing broke. And it's not just the pipes. It's also the water pump, or is the spigot cracked? That happened to me one year. We called a plumber, and I think I was on a payment plan for like six months after fixing that."

On his restaurant's socials Hwang offered a list of ways customers could support small businesses they liked, which included sharing and following the business on social media, leaving a review, buying gift certificates, and sending simple messages of encouragement.

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A post shared by Kim Jong Grillin (@kimjonggrillin)

Mainstream financial reporting periodically warns consumers of the billions corporations make on our unspent gift card purchases. However, Hwang's list proposes an interesting turn on that idea: When it comes to your favorite small business, you spend a lot of money there, so why don't you just do it right now? Gift cards and certificates could actually function as micro loans that businesses can pay back with product, delicious product. This idea—in fact, all of Hwang's numbered points—can also apply to many different kinds of small businesses, not just restaurants. Your local movie theaters, book stores, pinball arcades, etc. all probably sell gift certificates of some kind.

However, Hwang stressed to the Mercury that simple encouragement was his personal number one. "I think the thing that helps the most is to feel like you're relevant. You get a direct message, or you gain 100 followers for no reason. Just hearing, 'Hey, I love your place. Can't wait to eat there again'—that actually does go a very long way." 

Hwang's entreaty to support small business comes at a time when he is in the midst of success and expansion. "I have a brick and mortar opening up at the end of this month in Happy Valley," he said. Hwang also plans to have a brick and mortar restaurant open in Southeast Portland within the next two-six months.

Low level shocker: He's not joining Flock—the yet to open dining hall in the Ritz Carlton, which based a not insignificant percentage of its cool factor on Kim Jong Grillin's involvement. 

"Flock is going to be a smash. When it opens, it's going to crush… the timing was just off. By the time Flock opens, I'll already have the Happy Valley location and hopefully my [Southeast Portland] location will be open. I didn't want to be in too many places at once."