Steven Shomler: Portland Food Cart Stories: Behind the Scenes with the City’s Culinary Entrepreneurs, The History Press, 208 pages.
It took awhile for Portland writer Steven Shomler to turn his attention to his city’s food cart culture but once he did he was hooked.
A few years ago he started a website, portlandfoodcartadventures. com, and in April he published a new book, Portland Food Cart Stories: Behind the Scenes with the
City’s Culinary Entrepreneurs. Shomler spoke to the North Shore News about his book and the current scene which boasts as many as 500 carts in operation on any given day throughout the city.
North Shore News: How did you get involved with the food carts?
Steven Shomler: I moved to Portland in 2004 and in the fall of 2010 a friend of mine Adam made me go to a food cart. We went to the Portland Soup Company and I had a cold gazpacho soup and an incredible sandwich which kind of blew my mind. The very next Friday we went to Lardo – Lardo was a food cart and is now one of the most amazing restaurants in Portland. It was started by a culinary school-trained chef who had lots of success and kind of burned out. He moved to Portland just to have fun with a food cart and it kind of grew from there. Sitting in the food cart pod on that day I said to Adam,
‘We’ve got to start a food cart website and tell other idiots like me who have lived in Portland for a long time and have never been they need to go.’ Fast forward to a year later I started researching in the winter of 2011 and started the website January 1.
North Shore News: You describe yourself as a food cart fan.
Steven Shomler: I don’t think it’s really fair to describe myself as a critic – these days I say I’m more of a food writer based out of Portland. Part of the reason I don’t say I’m a critic is that if I don’t like the food that is at a food cart nobody will ever know I was there. I don’t need to ruin what they are trying to do or trying to accomplish. That’s just not who I am. I’m a huge fan of food carts and when I find one I love and I think the food is amazing and the stories are great I write about it and I tell my friends and fans to go to this one and check it out because it’s fantastic.
North Shore News: How did the book come about? Is that an extension of what you do on your website? Steven Shomler: I tell the stories about the owners of the food carts that I love. It’s more about them as business owners. Why are they here? Why in Portland? Why that menu? How did they get here? Why are these people here doing this amazing food? North Shore News: The food cart culture in Portland is certainly unique.
Steven Shomler: A food cart in Portland is a food truck almost anywhere else. We call them carts, they’re actually food trucks, in Austin, Texas they call them trailers. One difference that Portland has that most of the rest of the country doesn’t is that our contraption or whatever you call it stays in one place most of the time year-round. In fact one of the challenges that people have when they fall in love with food carts is that they say, ‘Oh I want that truck to come to my wedding.’ The vast majority of Portland food carts are not mobile, they cannot go to your wedding. They cannot be hauled around. They are there 24/7 seven days a week.
North Shore News: Your book is a snapshot of the Portland food cart scene now – can you talk about one of the success stories in the book?
Steven Shomler: I profile Sean and McKinze, they are a wonderful couple that grew up in Iowa the heartland of America. They wanted to see the world and the best way they could do that was through the peace corps. They signed up and ended up going to the country of Georgia. They fell in love with the food and the people and when their couple of years with the peace corps was up they recalled visiting Portland on vacation and they’d seen the food carts and decided to open a food cart selling Georgian cuisine. They learned just living in the country and from their host families and opened a food cart here and have done phenomenally well. Their dish khachapuri – salty fried bread with melted cheese inside – is fantastic. Give me a hockey playoff game, a six-pack of beer and a plate of khachapuri and I will be a happy man. They are at Ninth and Alder downtown. Ninth and Alder has about 60 or 70 carts in it all stacked right next to each other and in the downtown pods you eat standing up.
There’s two kinds of pods in Portland – there’s the downtown pods where you eat standing up or if you happen to work downtown you take the food back to your office. The other kind of pods are neighbourhood pods where they have covered seating and walls that come down in the dead of winter to keep you warm. It’s two very different experiences the neighbourhood pods and the downtown pods. I love both.
North Shore News: A couple of pods are apparently disappearing to development this year.
Steven Shomler: Yes they are. Cartopia, a very popular pod here at 12th and Hawthorne, is probably going to close down at the end of October when its lease has run out and it becomes a 27-unit apartment complex. But I don’t think the sky is falling on the Portland food cart scene. I know three pods that are planning to open. I’m very sad to see Cartopia go – I hope they have an amazing summer. Anyone who comes from Vancouver to Portland this summer needs to go on a Friday or Saturday night at midnight – it’s an amazing fun scene.
North Shore News: What’s the experience been opening pods in neighbourhoods? Has there been any nimbyism (not in my backyard) sentiment?
Steven Shomler: Not that I have ever heard of. When D-Street Noshery closed at 33rd and Division the neighbourhood was very disappointed. Some people went to the hearing a couple of years ago and said, ‘Hey let’s not put in the condos.’ Koi Fusion had a cart at D-Street in that pod just a couple of blocks from where they just opened their first brick and mortar on 30th. They’ve had T-shirts printed
North Shore News: What pods would you recommend this summer?
Steven Shomler: A pod I really like if you want to check out the neighbourhood experience is Alberta and 23rd – that’s an amazing pod. I tend to prefer the neighbourhood pods because I can take friends and we can sit down and eat. There’s the Cheese Plate PDX there that has amazing cheeses, grilled cheese sandwiches and things for my friends who are vegans and don’t see the beauty of bacon like I do.
You’ve got The Sugar Shop which has incredible desserts they bake with booze. I had a coconut porter float there on Sunday and it was just amazing. You have the Hoppy Camper which is a food cart that sells only beer. It’s fun, you can sit at the tables in the shade – it’s a great experience.
Belmont and 42nd is a fantastic pod. Carts on Foster, at 52nd and Foster, is a great pod with a fun little bar pod Bar PDX – they have taps with really good quality local Oregon brews. A larger fun pod, it’s a different experience, is Cartlandia out on 82nd. They just opened a natural enclosed bar there, The Blue Room, and one of the prominent carts there is Main Street Lobster and you can get authentic lobster rolls right there in Portland.
The other thing visitors need to do is make sure they check out some downtown carts: Ninth and Alder is a good one, Third and Stark is a really fun pod – there’s a Pulehu Pizza run by a gentlemen who grew up in France who learned to grill pizzas on a grill in Hawaii and now does amazing Hawaiian grilled pizzas right there at Third and Stark.
You’ve got Mama Chow’s Kitchen – Jeff Chow moved December 31 this past year from Oakland, California to Portland to open a food cart which was his culinary dream. He does amazing Chinese food that his mom taught him. It’s just incredible the stuff he does there and literally right next to Jeff you’ve got All Jarred Up. They are kind of a fun quirky little cart. They were in business in California working in a windowless little space for three years making desserts in jars they sent all over the country. They said enough of this and moved to Portland and opened a food cart. They still ship their desserts all over the country but they are also available out of their cart. – Shomler has filmed segments for the Food Network’s Eat St. which will be airing over the coming year. For more information on his book and website go to portlandfoodcartadventures. com.
© North Shore News
Prepare yourself to meet your new favorite food truck, except don’t expect to get any savory treats from this mobile operation.
Launched in March, Finnegans “Reverse Food Truck” hopes to collect $50,000 in food and donations over the course of seven months by riding around Minnesota in a bright green vehicle and collecting non-perishable items, cash and credit card donations to help the hungry, according to the company’s website.
The concept is a natural fit for the beer company whose mission is to help people in need.
Finnegans has two beers available –- a blonde ale and an Irish amber –- and 100 percent of profits go toward feeding the hungry in the areas where its drinks are sold, according to its Facebook page.
The beers are available in restaurants and liquor stores exclusively in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, and the company has made a sizable impact since it was established 14 years ago.
Finnegans has raised more than half a million dollars and donated 91,000 pounds of produce, ABC News reported.
The food truck is expanding the company’s donor pool by giving people the chance to contribute, without having to buy a beer, Angie Lee, marketing coordinator, told NPR.
Whereas most menus tell you how much an entrée is going to cost you, Finnegans’ food truck menu spells out how your donation will help people in need.
For example, $5 will buy enough food for two days and $25 will allow for the purchase of enough food for two weeks, according to the organization’s website.
The food truck is keeping supporters abreast of its whereabouts via social media.
— FINNEGANS (@FINNEGANS) May 18, 2014
— FINNEGANS (@FINNEGANS) May 15, 2014
While some passersby are often confused when they first hit up the food truck, they usually walk away feeling pretty satisfied with the vehicle’s mission.
“They’ll try and order a hamburger or a taco and we say ‘No, we’re actually taking food,’” Lee told NPR. “And then they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the coolest thing ever.’”
Food trucks from Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia selling everything from crab cakes and cheese curds to cupcakes and cookies were the featured attraction at Baltimore’s third-annual food truck festival, held on Saturday at MT Bank Stadium.
The event, which began in 2012 as a Taste of Two Cities, had a different name this year — a Taste of Three Cities. Joining trucks from Baltimore and Washington for the first time was a contingent from the Philadelphia area, including the festival’s only crab cake specialist.
The dining event, which attracted 15,000 people according to its promoters, is also a friendly inter-city competition, with trucks competing, individually, for the Mayor’s Cup, which is decided by a panel of judges.
The Baltimore-based truck Gypsy Queen entered the day as the Mayor’s Cup two-time defending champion. This year, the Iced Gems cupcake truck took home the Mayor’s Cup, while Gypsy Queen was named the People’s Choice.
The day’s longest line was at The Cow and the Curd, a Philadelphia-based food truck specializing in a Wisconsin delicacy – fried cheese curds.
One satisfied customer, Sarah Baebler of Yale Heights, made a point of returning to thank the truck’s owner, Rob Mitchell.
Baebler, who said she is from Lodi, a small farming town near Madison, Wis., admitted to Mitchell that she had been skeptical. But she said his cheese curds were every bit as good as those she remembered from back home, if not better.
“You almost made me cry,” Baebler said.
“Now you’re an official member of the ‘curd herd,’” Mitchell told her.
Hundreds of people are in downtown Mobile Saturday afternoon to get a taste of food not usually found on the Gulf Coast. The reason? The Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race is in town.
The trucks feature a variety of cuisines from the Middle East or everything that can be cooked and served with bacon.
The trucks arrived at 261 Dauphin Street around 12:00 p.m.. According to the press release, the three-person teams are racing for the grand prize of keeping their food truck and a $50,000 cash prize to start their own business.
Food Network officials say the all the food truck’s specialties are being sampled across the country. The race began in Venice, California.
So, if Spicy Moroccan Fish Tacos or an extra special BLT sound tasty, head downtown to enjoy the food and the hungry crowds.
BENICIAGT;GT;The City Council on Tuesday is set to consider a proposed mobile food truck ordinance for the industrial park.
The proposal would allow mobile food trucks in the Limited Industrial, General Industrial, Industrial Park and Water-related Industrial zoning districts.
The Planning Commission backed the draft ordinance in April, with minor changes, and recommended that the council look into expanding the proposed regulations to other areas of the city.
The commission further recommended the council direct the city attorney to determine if currently existing food trucks in other parts of the city could be grandfathered in at their current locations.
City officials, meanwhile, have expressed concern about a lack of staff resources to develop a citywide ordinance.
In January, the council decided to pursue the current draft ordinance as part of a deal to develop a park-and-ride bus facility.
The city is moving to develop the project on a one-acre lot at Industrial Way and Park Road owned by a family that has operated a taco truck there for 21 years. The city has decided to take the property by eminent domain, but also agreed to develop a measure ensuring that the El Ranchero taco truck can continue to do business in the area.
In other business, the council is expected to approve $3,844 in grant funding for the Benicia Ballet Theatre for fiscal year 2014-15.
The funding has been in jeopardy because the group learned last year it had lost its nonprofit status. However, it has since successfully reestablished its 501(c)(3) status with both the IRS and the state, according to the city.
Also, the council will consider giving the Benicia Old Town Theatre Group until September to reestablish its nonprofit status to receive a $7,239 grant.
The theater group learned last year its nonprofit status had been revoked during a bookkeeping scandal that resulted in the arrest of its former treasurer for alleged embezzlement. The group has assured the city it is working to resolve its tax status.
The city normally requires groups that receive arts and culture grants to be registered non-profits.
The council is set to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 250 E. L St.
Contact Tony Burchyns at 707-553-6831.
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – This time of year, you can hardly walk along a downtown Minneapolis street without running into a food truck.
When the city passed an ordinance easing restrictions on these mobile restaurants the food truck phenomenon took off.
But the restaurants themselves aren’t the only ones seeing a boost.
Where most people see an old school bus, Zack Rethlake and Jessi Knudson see potential.
Rethlake and Knudson are planning to take their business, Fro-Yo Soul, to the streets, and over the next several weeks the shell of metal and wheels will be transformed into its headquarters.
“I think we just, we wanted to be mobile, kind of change our scenery every day, go to where people want our products,” Knudson said.
But they can’t do it alone.
To build their food truck, Rethlake and Knudson turned to Mark Palm of Chameleon Concessions.
Palms’s company has been a big part of the food truck boom.
Over the past three years, he’s seen a 40 percent increase in business and there’s always new work.
“We’re busy every single day from building new trucks to revamping trucks that come from other states,” Palm said.
Every order starts the same.
Palm is given a vehicle to work with and must overcome obstacles of each to put in the necessary kitchen supplies.
“The trucks all have different shapes, different sizes, different heights, different lengths. So, it’s a challenge to make all the items fit inside,” Palm said.
But the outside is where the trucks get their character.
For a restaurant on wheels, imagination attracts attention and no request is turned down, even unique modes of transportation
Rethlake and Knudson’s bus is a first for Palm, and the newest addition to a growing movement in dining out.
“Fro-Yo Soul” is expected to hit the streets mid-summer.
Meanwhile, the food truck concept has also gone beyond restaurants.
Palm is also making trucks for clothing and barber shops.
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Foodie face-off. Dozens of food trucks roll into the parking lot at MT Bank Stadium. Their goal–to find out which one has the best grub.
As Gigi Barnett explains, the trucks traveled from near and far.
This food truck rally was a tale of two cities. Chefs from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. in tight, mobile spaces battling it out to find out which foodie has the fare.
“We went to the cheese curd truck. Amazing,” one visitor said.
“It’s not a diet day,” said another.
“We’re going to be running around the gym tomorrow. Catch me at Druid Hill Park tomorrow,” another said.
But this year, another city wanted in on the action. Foodies from Philly joined the fray, making Baltimore’s annual food truck rally at MT Bank Stadium a bigger face-off.
“I’ll put my crab cake up against any crab cake,” said George Mamalis.
Mamalis drove his Crab Cakes truck down from the City of Brotherly Love. He says it’s just not true what they say about out-of-state crab cakes.
“We’re from Baltimore. We live in Philly now. I want to prove that you can bring a good crab cake from another state,” he said.
Trucks are judged on several qualities, including presentation, creativity and taste. For the last two years, the Gypsy Queen Cafe has been the truck to beat.
“We’ve got all our aces in our places,” said Jeffrey Cahill, Gypsy Queen Cafe.
That means “game on” for the Gypsy Queen. Their crowd-pleasing favorite is the crab cone.
“It’s a big waffle cone filled with garlic, Old Bay fries. We put a crab cake on top and a red chili aioli,” said Cahill.
“Most of the food served out of these trucks are as good, if not better, than what you find in a brick and mortar establishment,” said Damian Bohager, Taste of Three Cities promoter.
That may be why more than 20,000 people are expected this weekend.
More than 50 food trucks participated in this year’s rally. Some of the proceeds will go to the United Way and Moveable Feasts, which delivers meals to the terminally ill.
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CINCINNATI – We invite you to dig into our column spotlighting different chefs from the Greater Cincinnati area. Each Sunday, WCPO Contributor Grace Yek takes you into their kitchens and talks to them about their food. The chefs reveal their inspirations, philosophies, and provide a glimpse of their authentic selves.
This self-professed ”pusher of gourmet street food,” has won more accolades than you can shake a hot dog at. His culinary chops have snapped foodies into an upright position, and his tongue-in-cheek brand of upscale hot dogs has earned him frequent spreads in national media like Food and Wine magazine.
“My parents divorced when I was eight. When my mother went back to work, my brother and I were left to fend for ourselves,” he said.
Wright remembers his freewheeling experiments in the kitchen, especially with chop suey-style Chinese food.
“My poor family braved their way through some really bad meals,” he said.
Fortunately, the Chicago native, grew up around skillful cooks. He makes no bones about preferring to hang out with the women in his family, especially during hunting season.
“I come from a big hunting family. The men would go hunting, while the women would stay at home and cook,” Wright said. “I didn’t want to go freeze my ass off at 5 in the morning to go hunting. It wasn’t my thing,” he said.
Wright stayed warm with his mother, grandmother and aunts, who taught him how to cook. At the hands of his Irish and Polish relatives he learned to make pierogi and other dishes.
In high school, Wright played football and served as the captain of the wrestling team. However, sports could not keep him away from the draw of home economics.
“I dropped out of wrestling, and got into home economics. I really liked the aspect of cooking,” Wright said.
Become a WCPO Insider to learn about Wright’s essential kitchen tools, get a recipe for homemade tacos (and tortillas) and learn about his new cookbook and upcoming restaurant.
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