Portland’s Food Trucks To Add New Rules To Menu

There are about 600 mobile food trucks, vans and carts in Oregon’s Multnomah County. That’s nearly one for every 1,000 residents of the state’s biggest county. But the popularity of the foodservice streetscape sprawl is prompting new rules that have put the thriving, trendsetting world of Portland food carts on notice.

During a city council debate late last month about Dumpsters blocking city sidewalks, it was noted that food carts mean more than just a van or truck—they are filling the sidewalks with seating, tables, extension cords, and storage areas adjacent in the back and front. "I was very alarmed by what appeared to be illegal structures popping up as appendages to food carts, which no longer make them food carts but illegal restaurants," Randy Leonard, the city commissioner who oversees building codes, told The Oregonian.

Some city restaurant owners would agree, and fault food trucks and carts as unfair competition because they don’t have to provide the restrooms or wheelchair access required for restaurants. Years ago, Portland relaxed its codes and began regulating the food carts as vehicles, which allowed cart culture to thrive. Problems began when cart owners began building decks for customers to eat on and roofs to shield them from wind and rain without getting permits. Since December’s council meeting, city inspectors are reviewing the electrical and structural safety of food carts and the decks, patios and rooftops that owners have added. Commissioner Leonard said that in the interest of public safety, administrators at the Development Services Bureau are going to crack down. New rules for food carts are in the works as well. That’s probably bad news for the handful of food-cart owners who recently began petitioning for liquor licenses.

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