Abby Tian didn’t come to Portland to sell crepes from a cart. But after moving to the Rose City from China in 1992 and working in restaurants for years, she decided to try her luck with street food. Nearly 15 years later, Snow White Crepes is still going strong, serving scores of hungry Portlanders daily at the corner of Southwest 10th and Alder.
Abby misses her home country often, and has thought about returning to China more than once. “But what would my customers do without me?” she asks. “Some of them have been coming every day for years.” She’s also grown quite fond of Portland and her customers, who have made her adopted city feel like home. “I try to make every crepe with the love and pride I feel for this city and its people,” she says.
Abby Tian is one of many immigrants making food and a livelihood in Portland’s food cart pods. Indian, Bosnian, Korean, Thai — 24 different nationalities (pdf) are represented at over 500 carts citywide. This global marketplace has drawn international attention and accolades.
Budget Travel recently declared Portland’s “microcosm of mobile meals” among the best street food in the world. The pods are proliferating, too; the low operating costs of carts, combined with the paucity of jobs has led many entrepreneurs to try their luck with a restaurant on wheels.
What does it take to run a food cart? Is there fierce competition with other carts - or nearby restaurants? We’ll hear from three Portland food cart operators who will share their behind-the-scenes stories.
Do you have a favorite food cart? Do you prefer the grab-n-go food cart culture to the sit-down restaurant experience? Have food carts enlivened your neighborhood, or is the noise and mess from them a nuisance?
Editor’s Note: This show will come to you live from the food cart pod known as Mississippi Marketplace.
More Think Out Loud
OPB | Feb. 22, 2017