Brothers Yousif and Karam Alhamdani were surprised to find plenty of parking when they showed up for work Wednesday at their family’s food cart across from Ida B. Wells High School. Regardless, they still expected throngs of students to gather at the Hillsdale Food Cart Park for the lunch hour, so the brothers continued on with their prep work at Mama Noor’s food cart.
“We had all the fryers running,” Yousif Alhamdani said. “We had all the vegetables cut up and everything ready, and lunchtime comes — Nobody.”
The Alhamdani brothers soon learned that Wednesday was the first day Portland Public Schools teachers went on strike after months of unsuccessful negotiations between the district and teachers union. The district canceled classes Wednesday and Thursday at more than 80 campuses as teachers and their supporters hit the picket lines.
Food service businesses in Portland are feeling the ripple effects of the strike in different ways, mostly based on their proximity to schools. Businesses close to schools are bracing for a dip in sales and demand as long as the strike lasts. Restaurants in other parts of town are working out solutions for staff with impacted school-aged kids, while also preparing for potentially more patrons bringing children in with them.
The Hillsdale Food Cart Park is normally buzzing with students during the 11 a.m. hour. On Thursday, all the carts were closed at that time, and just a few opened up around noon to serve a trickle of customers.
Rika Hammond, who runs the Asian fusion food cart Phat Cart, said around half of her business comes during the school lunch hour.
“We had to cut down some staff knowing that there won’t be as much business as we normally get,” Hammond said.
Karam Alhamdani at Mama Noor’s said the family’s Indian and Middle Eastern food cart can bring in a couple hundred dollars alone during the lunch hour.
“But ever since the strike happened,” he said, “I feel like not a single person during those hours has come by.”
Hammond and the Alhamdani brothers said if the strike stretches from days to weeks it will hurt business, but they’ll figure it out. Being in the food business means staying flexible depending on weather, school schedules, and now labor disputes, according to Yousif Alhamdani.
“We’ll have a plan B, as usual,” he said, such as adjusting hours.
Across town at Mermosa restaurant and wine bar in Northwest Portland, owner Desiree Noisette said they’ve been watching the negotiations for the last two weeks and strategizing how to support their 18 employees.
“We’ve been planning, making a contingency plan,” Noisette said. “What we decided is that we were going to open our doors, so our staff members that need to can bring their kids in.”
Her own children, 6 and 9 years old, often spend time at Mermosa, and Noisette said they already have space set aside with Lego bricks and games.
Noisette doesn’t expect the strike to impact her sales, but the restaurant is offering free kids meals with an adult entrée for the duration of the strike.
“We also saw a potential need to help the community out,” Noisette said. “Whether you are an administrator, or a teacher, or a parent, or a grandparent that has caretaking responsibility for children impacted, we said, ‘let’s just go ahead and offer free meals to the kids.’”