Food trucks on Cutter Street
By late August, Portland's Cutter Street parking lot on the Eastern Promenade was attracting fewer food trucks, and customers, than expected.(Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)
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After a fitful launch in the spring that ultimately saw all interested food trucks permitted at a new Eastern Promenade location, several truck owners have apparently decided the spot isn’t viable.

On a recent bright and sunny Saturday, with temperatures in the high 70s at the tail end of Maine’s summer, just six of the 14 licensed food trucks were using the Cutter Street parking lot – Vy Banh Mi, Mr. Tuna, Eighty 8 Donuts, Gelato Fiasco, Cargo Pizza, and Maine Maple Creemee – and few customers were lined up. Most of the people on the Eastern Promenade were headed down to the beach, out for a walk, or just enjoying the late-summer day.

This comes after the city abandoned a lottery that would have allowed only 10 of the trucks to continue operating on the promenade in a pilot program that moved them away from the top of the hill, after property owners complained about the noise, odors, and traffic created by the trucks.

City Councilor Andrew Zarro, who chairs the City Council Sustainability and Transportation Committee, where the pilot program was discussed this past spring, said he’s heard from several truck owners who are displeased with Cutter Street. He said given their ability to do private events, and the location of the Cutter Street parking lot, several owners said they didn’t think it was worth it to continue operating there.

“The folks I’ve heard from say that if this is the plan for next year,” Zarro said, “they will not return.”

The councilor, who opposed the Cutter Street choice when it was first discussed in committee, said he hopes to bring the pilot program discussion back to the committee this fall before the council’s session concludes. He said food truck operators are already making plans for next year, and it wouldn’t be fair to them to wait until spring to make a decision as the city did this year.

“This is still under the purview of the city manager,” Zarro said, referencing interim City Manager Danielle West’s decision to move the trucks away from the popular spot at the top of the hill. “If we can’t come to terms with a plan, the City Council may need to go the ordinance route.”

He added that he believes moving the trucks has not alleviated parking and traffic problems on the Eastern Promenade. He said cars are still parked on both sides of the street, often jutting out into the travel lanes, making it just as troublesome for pedestrians as it was when the food trucks were there.

“I don’t think it was alleviated at all,” he said. “If you sit there and watch, it doesn’t feel like it’s any better than it was.”

Melissa Lombardi, owner of the Twist ice cream truck, was awarded a spot in the lottery, but said she was dismayed by a city requirement that the trucks be available on Cutter Street for at least five days a week to maintain their permits. She ultimately left the promenade and now moves around.

“I wish I could pick and choose when it’s a good time to fill our schedule, when it’s a good time (on the Promenade),” Lombardi said. “In seasons past, we made it our Friday night spot.”

Lombardi also doesn’t think the city has enforced the five-day requirement. “I don’t think anybody wanted to be there five days a week,” she said.

Lombardi said it’s also the height of wedding season, so several trucks probably have commitments and events that are pulling them away from Cutter Street.

City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said officials have noticed the Cutter Street lot isn’t always full, although they don’t know why. She said staff is observing and collecting “relevant information” about the pilot program to make informed decisions going forward.

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