Winter à la Carts

Can 2009's Cart Boom Continue Through Winter?


This is so funny and astute -- what an appropriate piece right now. Just this week my spouse-like-unit and I were walking to the Jolly Roger for some NFL action on Monday, after a cold and rainy Hawthorne Market that saw a 60% drop in business from all prevoius weeks, and he asked aloud how crummy weather was going to affect the Hawthorne POD (Parking-lot Of Distinction).

I submit that no one feels the rain when they're well-loaded, and that'd be just about everyone after midnight. Without the reliable 20-something party that rocked the HP through all those long summer nights, those many-hours long tweet-ups might shift into looking something more akin to the more ephemeral "flash mob." They've had all summer to make addicts out of folks (damn your salmon pie and the man tire that about a hundred of them caused).

More proactively, offering some warming choices as well as things designed to soak up gin might be the ticket. May I humbly suggest hot cider, cocoa and some sort of soup and baguette special. (also, as Scottie sez, "'fer yer broke ass").

That said, I think the elephant in the room is that a less rainy winter (according to the Forest Grove Old-timers) will mean more frequent and severe hard freezes (below 25F) that could cause some damage to poorly insulated carts, as I suspect most first-year carts are. And, when revenues are down by (let's say a modest 10-30% from high-summer) license fees, taxes and permits that come due during this season could become cart- *and* heart-breaking if coupled w/ a big, fat repair or propane bill.

In short, I'd expect about as much attrition w/ 1st year carts as you'd see in any first year restaurant business in Portland. And, if the menus change just a tad (or a ton) to reflect that change in sason, all the better.

Now, if only someone would make a pickle cart and show me some fermented cabbage love....

-Marie, Sellwood Garden Club
People's Republic of SE Portland
Interesting article. I hope new and old carts alike continue to flourish through the winter!

Just out of curiousity, when you discuss the number of licensed mobile units, are you including the significant number of drive-thru coffee shacks that are also classified as mobile units by the county? Or is the 370 mobile units for 2008 just food carts, taco trucks, and sidewalk push carts?

Not a huge deal either way, but it's worth noting that licensed mobile units includes more businesses than just food carts.
A lot of PDX's food carts plan to close soon for the winter. They view their business as seasonal. And it's easy to see why - pedestrian and bike traffic goes way down in bad weather, eating outside becomes less than pleasant, customers shift to warm indoor venues....the cart scene on Alberta is a good example of this seasonal slowdown.

But carters are an ingenious bunch....those that stay open this winter will make adjustments, and the best ideas will get picked up by others. For example, I look to see more converted bus/dining areas such as the Grilled Cheese Grill's.

One especially hopeful development is the 'pod'...a collection of carts surrounding a common eating area. With a sheltered space to eat in, some propane heat, and support for the local scene, such pods could be the key to a vibrant year-round cart scene in the years ahead.

"...the question remains if all 91 new carts opened this year will survive a saturated market and cold months."

No it doesn't.

Of course all 91 won't survive. They didn't even survive the summer. The overall number of foodcarts will probably grow, but let's not pretend that opening a cart makes you less immune to the marketplace than does opening a storefront. If your food sucks and/or if your service is bad, then odds are it won't survive. Rightfully so. And there are certainly carts out there whose prices are too high and whose food is average at best.