The lottery will determine which food trucks can be operated in Eastern Prom park

Jordan Robin of Mr. Tuna makes crispy, spicy shrimp rolls on his food cart at his oriental concert. The city is launching a pilot program to take trucks from the road to the parking lot on Cutter Street. Sean Patrick Owlette / Staff Photographer

For the past few years, Jordan Robin and his crew at Mr. Tuna, a mobile sushi bar, have been setting up shop during the warmer months on Portland’s Eastern Promenade.

Business took off in the spring of 2020 with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the food truck is now a large part of Robin’s business, which also includes a brick-and-mortar location at the Public Market House.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time here, it’s an important part of our job,” said Robin, chef and owner of Mr. Tuna. “We really depend on him.”

Robin is one of many food truck operators who are worried about the future as they have built their commercial car parks on Eastern Prom Road.

As of June 15, trucks will no longer be able to park on the party road during the summer months. Those trucks that have been selected to be part of a pilot program to address garbage, safety and environmental concerns will be transported to the middle car park on Cutter Street.

On Wednesday, the city will hold a raffle to select trucks for 10 locations at the new location. Fourteen applications were submitted, including one of two trucks seeking to share a place.

“Everyone is really afraid of losing their place,” Robin said.

East party food trucks – one of the city’s most popular destinations – have been a topic of discussion for months. Until recently, city rules allowed trucks to park anywhere along the party from Washington Street to Cutter Street, which runs from prom to East End Beach.

But concerns about issues such as pedestrian safety and garbage led city employees last spring to propose various plans to better manage the trucks, including creating a seasonal food truck court on the East Party between Turner and Congress Streets, and moving the trucks to a specific part of Prom Road between the two streets Turner and Quebec.

Interim City Manager Danielle West announced in April that the city had chosen to use Middle Cutter Street Square — one of three on-street parking lots — starting in mid-June and assessing how it would operate at the end of the season. -October.

Phan Vy at the Vy Banh Mi food truck at the oriental party. Sean Patrick Owlette / Staff Photographer

When asked Tuesday about food truck operators’ concerns about the lottery, city spokeswoman Jessica Grunden stressed that the new program is a pilot program and that the city does not charge a place on the plot this season. “We will take the feedback, analyze how this year is going and make any changes if necessary,” Grundin said.

Before the city announced its plan, staff gathered feedback from various sources, including two city council committees and the parks and public commission. A petition began last spring that collected more than 230 signatures and urged the city to follow the Cutter Street option.

Since then, another petition raising concerns about lottery locations on Cutter Street has collected more than 4,300 signatures. It states that if the city is going to limit the number of trucks it should not rely on a random lottery but should give trucks that have been at the party for more than three years their first dips on the sites.

Petition to reward generosity

Sarah Meehl, who started the petition on, said she was concerned that the lottery would push out the food trucks that built their gig business. Mehl said she worked at a food truck in college and has many food truck friends who are worried about their future work if their trucks don’t get places.

Meehl wrote: “(The Eastern Prom) is really the most viable location for the food carts and the local small business owners who have relied on this place are really holding their breath waiting to see what happens, if they don’t get a spot,” Meehl wrote in an email.

It was a cold and drizzly Tuesday lunchtime, and Mr. Tuna was one of three food trucks parked at the prom. Vy Phan, who owns a Vy Banh Mi food truck, has applied for a place in the lot. She’s hoping the city will find a way to accommodate all 14 applicants so that the food trucks don’t conflict with each other.

“We don’t know where we’re going (if we don’t get a place),” said Fan. “We used to go to the breweries – but if you want to go to the brewery, you have to book it first, and now it’s already booked for this year. If we can’t get anywhere there, we don’t know what to do.”

Grunden said the city has considered adding additional food cart places on Cutter Street, but that space is limited. “There are other uses for the space than just food trucks, so unfortunately we are in a position to have to balance the use of that space,” she said.

She encouraged truck owners to work together. “Unfortunately, we’re over the ten cap, so if four don’t get it, maybe they can team up with another operator if that operator doesn’t plan to be there every day of the week,” Grundin said.

Customers place orders at Mr. Tuna’s parked oriental concert on Tuesday. Sean Patrick Owlette / Staff Photographer

Not all food truck operators vying for points in the lottery are stressed. Jared Edwin, owner of On a Roll, which serves sandwiches and bowls of rice, said he doesn’t attend prom often because he travels with a truck and trailer and it’s hard to find enough space.

fair settlement

“I think it’s a fair compromise,” Edwin said of the pilot. “Given the situation, I think it definitely is kind of a mess out there in the summer when there are a lot of trucks and buses and hundreds of people and people trying to park food trucks on the street. I understand why the city would want to change it.”

But others who have had a long concert presence are worried about their future and don’t want to lay off the staff. “It really freaks me out,” Dylan Gardner, owner of Falafel Mafia with his brother Cameron, said of the prospect of not getting a place in the lottery.

For the past three years, Gardner said, the Falafel Mafia has typically been operating six to seven days a week at the prom. In the three years before that, it was at Prom, less regularly. Last fall, the brothers, who also own Nora Hummus and Falafel Bar in Monument Square, bought a second food truck so they would be available for catering and events as well as maintain a presence at the prom.

“We were counting on the fact that we wouldn’t be asked to leave or disqualified,” Gardner said. “I’m really scared.”

Worried about LAYOFFS

He understands the city’s need to manage food trucks better, but says there should have been more attention to those who spent time and worked at the prom. “We understand the need for fairness and that the city needs to be fair to everyone, but that doesn’t always seem fair to those who worked there,” Gardner said.

The Falafel Mafia truck at the party employs about seven people and Gardner said he may have to lay off at least four people if it doesn’t get a spot in the lot.

Tuna’s Robin says his truck typically employs six to seven people plus employees at a brick-and-mortar site whose work also supports the truck.

“What will these people do if we lose this site?” Robin asked. “They actually planned the whole summer to be here. … That’s how they make a living. This is how they pay their bills.”

He said he was not sure what would happen to the truck if Mr. Tuna was not selected for a spot in the lottery.

“We might find something, but it won’t replace this,” Robin said. “My staff doesn’t know what’s going on. They ask me every day, ‘Did you hear anything?'”

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