Why Portland’s Food Truck Pidgin Hall Isn’t a Restaurant

Jeremy Hansen and Becca Russell began looking at restaurant spaces before opening their first food cart, Pidgin Hole, in 2017. The couple, who worked at Tony’s Starlight supper her club ten years ago, wanted to run their own business that could celebrate Hansen’s personal cooking style. After touring several businesses, they decided to use a wholly owned food cart rather than renting one. They named their cart Pidgin Hall. This is a tribute to Hansen’s melting pot heritage, having grown up Cantonese-American while cooking with his grandfather in Hawaii.

For the past five years, the couple has endured heat domes and freezing temperatures. Extreme weather events disproportionately affect food carts due to lack of insulation. They survived the COVID-19 pandemic even when they lost their event business. Hansen survived a hit-and-run accident and was out of action for months.

Over the past three years, many food carts have closed. Unpredictable weather, labor shortages, and rising food costs made it untenable. Some cart owners have moved to pop-ups and open restaurants, thanks to the safety of physical buildings.

Still, the couple and their business have thrived over the past five years. Hansen and Russell have expanded and opened his second cart specializing in sandwiches.At the time, they could have opened a restaurant, but Kurt’s owners chose to stay in the mobile food business forever. , if they actually mobile A relatively rare cart in the Portland food cart scene.

In Portland, most of the city’s carts reside in pods, compartments that house various stationary carts. Like many pods downtown, it’s essentially a parking lot with carts, no real seating. Other features include a fire pit, bar, brewery taproom, and event space for families and parties to enjoy a variety of cuisines in one place. Many food cart owners are drawn to pods because of their built-in customer base and amenities. “You have to be really good at social media to join the pod,” says Russell. “Instead of sitting back and waiting and hoping someone will find us in the pod, there may or may not be a lot of competition…we are where people are. to go.”

“Where people are” changes throughout the year. In summer, pidgin halls emerge for outdoor events such as concerts and festivals. Park near the zoo or Portland International Raceway. During the wedding season, I often work in catering. In the winter and off-season, various businesses park in his park during the lunch rush. Early in the pandemic, when people were working from home, they switched strategies. “Our booking agent was really smart. “That’s why we survived her COVID.”

Aside from booking agent costs, Hansen and Russell keep their overhead low by staying mobile. They cover their needs by keeping generators, fresh water and gray water tanks on board. This is an expense that you can cover with your event booking business. “If you’re not making money attending events, you’re not spending money,” says Russell. “We have no rent, no leases, nothing like being handcuffed.”

Event-specific flexibility means shorter shifts than your average cart, 8+ hours a day for a 2 or 3 hour lunch rush. When Hansen had an accident, Kurt didn’t have to pay for his medical expenses.And when they returned to touring, they were able to make up for their losses at events. Developing a loyal following based on regular appearances helps strengthen the business. “People are excited that we’re there because we go where they’re expected to be,” says Russell. “They don’t see us every week. sometimes go [to business parks and apartments] Once a month. So people will say, ‘I’m so excited to have you here again. “

Mobility doesn’t completely eliminate the challenges of operating a food cart. According to Russell, in the final heat, the temperature inside the cart reached 150 degrees Fahrenheit at the dome, and in the winter he will be wearing his Snow pants in the cart while taking orders. But for her, her karting life is worth it.

“We go to concerts, we go to events, we go out on the streets and do all these cool things. “We get to talk to other Portlanders about this cool city we live in. It’s how we get through the hot days.”

follow us pidgin hall When Alchemy Sandwich Company Follow Kurt on Instagram for his current whereabouts.

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