As Portland food trucks begin their second year in a lot at the bottom of the Eastern Promenade, some are unhappy about it, arguing that they would rather be along the roadway in the neighborhood near the top of the public park.
City Manager Danielle West decided to move the trucks after residents and property owners complained in spring of 2022. The complaints centered on the noise, traffic and trash generated by the food trucks and their patrons, as well as damage to trees along the promenade, whose root systems were exposed due to the foot traffic. Last fall, West announced the trucks would remain in that lot, despite renewed protests from truck owners.
The Eastern Promenade is one of the city’s best known and most used public parks, given its proximity to the East End Beach, public boat launch, a community garden, a multi-use trail, playgrounds, baseball fields and is the location of the annual Fourth of July celebration.
City staff said in November 2022, a pilot year, they would look into electrical hookups for the Cutter Street lot. Those talks have stalled, as several food truck owners complained that the city has not moved forward with the plan. A city spokesperson confirmed that electricity will not be provided to the trucks this year in order to test the viability of the Cutter Street location, but they will look into it next summer.
“We wanted to be sure that there would be sufficient long-term demand to justify the expense,” said city spokesperson Jessica Grondin. “That was communicated during the public process.”
All told, there are 47 food trucks licensed in Portland, though that number is down from 70 just two years ago. Those 47 trucks can operate in many locations around the city, like West Commercial Street from Park Street to Danforth Street, in Bayside along Marginal Way from Forest Avenue to the Eastern Promenade, the north side of Park Avenue between High Street and I-295 at certain times, among other locations. During the pandemic, especially at its height, Portlanders came to rely on food trucks to be able to eat outside.
This summer will mark the second season that food trucks parking near the Eastern Promenade will be restricted to the Cutter Street parking lot, a move many owners at the time criticized and protested. This year, just seven food trucks will be permitted in the lot, down from the 14 that were permitted last year.
Jordan Rubin, who owns the sushi and seafood truck Mr. Tuna, said that being in the Cutter Street lot hasn’t been great. Though it’s early in the season, he says his truck is doing a tenth of the sales they used to do when they were at the top of Eastern Promenade.
Rubin, whose restaurant has a storefront in Monument Square, may look into different places next year.
“I’m always looking for something better,” Rubin said. “When the Prom was great, I was really satisfied. Since then, I’ve been trying to find a new location.”
Mitch Newlin, co-owner of Gelato Fiasco, echoed some of Rubin’s concerns, specifically the lack of electricity. Additionally, the city increased the regular food truck license fee from $500 to $3,900. Last year, trucks were not charged a fee to operate on Cutter Street.
“Cutter Street is not nearly as good as the top of the hill,” he said.
The city has installed “high capacity vault trash cans” earlier this season, including around the promenade, and plan to install more this summer, Grondin said.
Alex Marshall, the city’s parks director, said there had been discussions of moving the seven remaining trucks to another part of Cutter Street, but determined the middle lot was still the best location. The seven food trucks still on Cutter Street are Eighty 8 Donuts, Cargo Pizza, Tacos La Poblanita, Mr. Tuna, Falafel Mafia, Gelato Fiasco and Vy Banh Mi. Truck locations along the Eastern Promenade and Ocean Gateway are determined by a lottery system when demand exceeds the supply of available spots.