Food Carts Are the Heart of Portland’s Food Culture. Could January 2023 Regulations Change That?

With Portland’s thriving food cart scene, every local has a true favorite to try, while tourists eagerly tick off their must-try list boxes. There are so many karts in the city that it is impossible to keep an exact number, but there are over 500. Sometimes his one cart spawns next to a corner store, sometimes a pod takes root in an empty parking lot. There is a proliferation of pods with beer bars, real bathrooms and heated covered seating. A cart is as unique as the people who power can get anything from Wood-fired Mormon Grandma Cooking On crepes from Chinese stalls. One of the reasons carts are so popular here is that the barriers to getting started are lower than in brick-and-mortar restaurants, with lower start-up costs and fewer regulations. However, with new regulations on food carts and food cart pods coming into force on January 1, 2023, some cart owners are worried about whether they can continue to operate their businesses, with restaurants such as Meliora Pasta and Papi Sal’s already temporarily closed. Some owners have decided to close permanently. .

The most annoying new regulation concerns the treatment of wastewater from carts. Wastewater includes water used to wash hands, dishes and pots and may contain grease, bacteria, soap and food particles. The cart can be connected directly to the sewer with a grease interceptor, collect water in a small wastewater tank mounted on the cart and be emptied frequently, or collect water in a large wastewater cube adjacent to the tank. Wastewater can be treated in two ways. A new statewide mobile food unit law declares that “all operations and equipment must be integral to the unit.” This means carts can no longer use large wastewater cubes, which can pose a major challenge for these businesses.

Jeff Martin of the Multnomah County Health Department, who enforces the state’s regulations, said, “We’ve known for years that wastewater spills have occurred, cracked or encroached on tanks, and flowed into storm drains and the Willamette River. I have been recording for a long time,” he said.

Owners of Meliora Pasta, an Italian-inspired cart that opened in February 2022 and was most recently located in the Bantu Island Food Cart Pod on NE Alberta Street and 15th Avenue, have already decided to temporarily close . When co-owner Jim Miller moved into Bantu Pod last summer, he was told he would be doing upgrades by January so he could connect the carts to the sewers, but those upgrades weren’t. Not done yet. Earlier this year, he was sharing his 500-gallon wastewater cube with Kurt next to him. He paid $250 once every three weeks to have it disposed of by a licensed wastewater removal company.

If you don’t have a sewer connection and you don’t have a large wastewater cube, the only option available is to use the cart’s small onboard wastewater tank. New city regulations allow cart owners to carry up to 20 gallons at a time. Alternatively, you can use a licensed waste water removal service to empty your on-board tank that holds 75 gallons. But some carts he can easily go through 50 gallons a day, says Millar. This means that some people will need one wastewater treatment service per day. This is not feasible with the town’s few wastewater treatment companies. Due to daily haulage costs and logistical difficulties, Millar has decided to close its Meliora Pasta carts in the near future. Instead of an affordable cart with a sewer connection he previously opted for his dinner pop-up at Yonder Space until he found a space.

There are many licensed wastewater transporters in the state, but only two in the area that can treat wastewater for food carts. Association. The situation is even tougher in rural areas of the state, which may not be serviced by regular wastewater removal. “In every industry, there has been a drastic reduction in staff. [during the pandemic]’ says Tucker. “The sewage pump industry is no exception. But it was around this time that mobile units blossomed as restaurants closed and restaurateurs wanted to continue doing what they loved. We had less…we needed a breakpoint. We have 400 customers and only two pumping trucks.”

“It already takes over a week to schedule the gray water removal system,” says Millar. “It’s not realistic…their schedules are already full.”

Also, frequent pumping of wastewater tanks is costly. Taco Gang Food His cart owner Leo Mendoza transitioned from a large cube that he pumped once a month to a small onboard his tank that he pumped once a week. “It’s a triple [what it used to cost] monthly,” he says.

Meanwhile, Jess Mummery, co-owner of Papi Sal’s, said Great Notion had abandoned plans to build a taproom (including a sewer connection) and the cart was closed because it would cost $70 a day to remove the daily wastewater. It is said that it was done. “We were in between the rocks and the difficult places with where to put the cart,” she says. She and business her partner John Hatch are planning a Puerto Rican platter pop-up and will reconsider opening the cart at a new location in the spring when business tends to pick up.

Many new pods are now built with sewer connections, while many older pods rely on wastewater tanks. Burger cart Monster Smash owner Ricola Verde and his co-tenant Belmont Station are facing rent increases over the next two years to cover his $18,000 cost of connecting the cart to the sewers. increase.

Meanwhile, Teskeys, who owns a food cart pod at 2623 Belmont Street, says he’s found the cost of the upgrade to be prohibitive. “I bid on her $30,000 contractor, but I’m not going to do it,” she says. “We know we don’t protect [the pod] If it costs you exorbitantly.i’m worried about it [a lot of the carts around the city] be forced out of business. ”

These regulations came into force in early 2020, but many food cart owners and food cart pod owners say they were unaware of the regulations until recently. their business. E-mails written in English and Spanish were sent repeatedly from the city to Portland food cart owners.

County health departments provide Kurt with this information in a variety of ways, Martin said. “we [let them know] Through a planning review process that requires planning for sanitary sewer connections or regular periodic pumping that does not rely on wastewater cubes outside the mobile unit. We also provide information at the time of inspection.I’ve also been using flash notifications for the past few months [via email] To make sure all mobile units are aware of this,” he says.

But Martin says he doesn’t want the carts to be closed because of the new regulations. Help them understand something,” he says. More frequent pickups from internal tanks.

In the meantime, Tucker has filed a request with the Department of Health to give food carts another eight months to comply with the regulation. After all, the January 2023 guidelines were put in place before the pandemic began, Tucker said.

“Nobody thought this was going to last three years. So it was quite a while before the health department or anyone could really focus on anything other than survival. And now, All of a sudden we’re looking down the barrel of the 3 year mark and no one knew [about the guidelines]’ says Tucker. “We understand that due to extenuating circumstances, we were not able to obtain the information sooner. But now we need their help and we need more time.”

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