Over the last two weeks, the restaurateurs' grumbles have turned into a collective rumble, led by the outspoken Ted Papas, longtime owner of the Greek Cuisina. At a meeting last week, Papas debuted his fledging organization, Formal Association of Restaurant Entrepreneurs (F.A.R.E.), in which he delineated his specific problems with the "trailer epidemic."
"I'm against building food carts in private lots that don't comply with the same rules restaurants have," he told some 50 restaurateurs. "I like competition. I love it. But I want it on the same level."
About 20 food trailers reside in the parking lots of SW 5th across from the Fox Tower. Vendors rent trailer and vehicle spaces from the Greg Goodman family for about $800-$1000 a month and pay a licensing fee to the city. Papas' big problem is that the trailer restaurants are operating on a month-to-month rental lease that is zoned for parked cars.
With the supposed support of almost 50 restaurateurs and the backing of the Oregon Restaurant Association--a deep-pocketed lobbying body--Papas wants to persuade City Hall to ban food trailers. But public sympathy has not exactly been overwhelming.
"I think it's totally classist," says Debra Rolfe, a bike messenger having lunch at Royal India. "People work downtown and don't make a lot of money; we don't have an hour to chill for lunch."
Royal India just moved to SW 5th for the high foot-traffic. "A restaurant is too expensive and risky for us," explains Balbir Sandhu, who bought his trailer for $15,000 and runs it with help from his family. His trailer has a power hook-up, but he hauls his own trash and water. "If we didn't have this trailer, where would we go?" he asks.
Sandhu and other trailer vendors say their business will decrease substantially during the rainy season, when people are apt to eat inside. And vendors are quick to point out they can't serve alcohol or sell lotto tickets--big money makers for restaurants. In their defense, trailer owners plan to circulate a public-support petition.