Meals (and Deals) on Wheels

Food Cart

image by Rachael Running

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What’s a food-loving entrepreneur to do? The recession has turned eating at home into a necessity. And opening a new restaurant, bakery, or pub requires a chunk of increasingly-hard-to-come-by capital. Enter the deliciously nimble food cart. In the past few years, more than 450 of these hyper-local, highly affordable eateries have sprung up in Portland, Oregon, bringing the sweet smell of commerce back to the streets.

“Carts make it possible for people of modest means to eat out—usually more healthfully than at fast-food chain restaurants,” reports New Urban News (Jan.-Feb. 2010). The carts are also easy on proprietors: Licenses cost $315, monthly rent averages $500, and they can be outfitted for as little as a few thousand dollars. Portland’s carts are run by a mix of immigrants and culinary school graduates, and have fewer major health code violations per inspection than the area’s restaurants do.

The rapid proliferation also might finally settle the carts-versus-restaurants debate that keeps many cities from enacting vendor-friendly policies. “The commonly heard complaint is that. . . carts unfairly compete with brick-and-mortar restaurants,” one Portlander told New Urban News. “If anything, the food carts seem to feed the Portland food buzz and create more consumer demand.”