Hungry for more?
Vendors, diners, city leaders ponder future of food carts in Beaverton
To call Ochoas Lupita's Tacos a "food cart" may be a bit of a stretch.
Rather than the van or trailer setup common to popular food cart pods in Portland, the setup in the parking lot of the All American Eye Glass Repair shop at 9549 S.W. Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway is pretty basic: a couple Easy-Up tents, a makeshift kitchen on a platform, a cold bar with vegetables and condiments and some picnic tables. While there aren't any other vendors nearby, Ochoas, which set up shop about three years ago, does have the advantage of a lighted sign on a post that beckons to travelers along the busy thoroughfare.
Disregarding the spartan setup which comes courtesy of Frank Gutierrez, owner of the glasses shop what remains is a dependable, reasonably priced outlet for authentic Mexican food made from longtime family recipes that keep customers returning sometimes several times a week.
"I've been here more than 50 times," said West Hills resident Dan Rogers, enjoying a helping of $6 steak tacos on a recent steaming hot afternoon. "I do like Mexican food. This is how they are down there. This is not the wanna-be fare."
Jose Ochoas and his daughter, Ana, have run the roadside business, which started out on Allen Avenue near Lombard Street, for the past three years. The Hillsboro residents say they've grown to like their current location, but would consider moving to a pod or cluster of other vendors, or perhaps opening a second location.
"We knew we were going to start small," Ana Ochoas said, translating her father's Spanish-spoken comments. "The only thing is the parking lot. It's a little too small. (Jose) has thought of having another one. We will stay here for awhile because we know this location."
Watching and waiting
Depending on the direction in which city of Beaverton officials and planners choose to go, food vendors without a brick-and-mortar shop such as the Ochoases could end up with more options, including a designated food-cart pod area. Based on a June 26 work session, the city's Planning Commission set the wheels in motion to explore revamped regulations that would encourage more mobile food vendors and possibly designate specific zones or pods for several of them to set up shop.
The city has about 50 locations that would be suitable for food cart pods, although licensed carts can't stay in one location for more than seven hours based on current regulations.
Steven Sparks, manager of the city's Planning Division, said staff is essentially waiting to see how similarly sized Gresham plans to address its own regulation overhaul relating to mobile food vendors.
"What we're planning to do is wait and see what other jurisdictions in the area do," he said. "I know the city of Gresham is undergoing a thorough review right now. What we would like to do is see what they come up with, because they're going through the same questions we have."
Sparks expects the Planning Commission to revisit the issue sometime this fall.
From cart to building
Gloria Vargas, who has operated Gloria's Secret Cafe at 12500 S.W. Broadway St. since May of 2003, started her Beaverton-based culinary career as a regular vendor at the Beaverton Farmers Market on Fifth Street near the Beaverton City Library. She enjoyed serving her El Salvadorian tamales and other homespun fare with little more than a stove and a pop-up tent at the market, but ultimately found it too difficult to compete with the lower prices of her fellow vendors, particularly those making Mexican fare.
"I can't afford to make a tamale and charge two bucks. I just can't," she said, noting dishes at her four-table restaurant range from $6 to $12. "For my tacos, Jenny's Tacos, I use top sirloin, 8 ounces (of meat), pan fried, in a much bigger tortilla. Everybody likes cheap, but not everyone is going to go for that."
Based on the traffic she's observed at existing carts, Vargas is unconvinced that Beaverton's customer base would necessarily support a larger concentration of food carts offering ethnic fare.
"I just think Beaverton is really more into fast food, like Pizza Hut," she said. "Olive Garden has a line out the door on Friday night. (People) are busy, and very little have an understanding about quality, authentic food. They're stuck in their old ways."
James Jones, a Vancouver resident working on a construction project at Beaverton Toyota, is not one of those. He stopped by Richi's Tacos, a mobile food truck parked on Lombard Avenue across from the Beaverton Transit Center, on the recommendation of a co-worker.
"He said this is the best spot in Beaverton for a good burrito," Jones said. "This is way better than fast food. With all the driving I do for construction work, I love food carts."
Gutierrez, who agreed to let Ochoas Lupita's Tacos set up shop in his parking lot, said its worth sacrificing a few parking spaces for the extra foot traffic he's gotten for the eyeglass repair shop he's owned for 23 years.
"At lunchtime, it gets crazy," he admitted, with customers coming by for Mexican food as well as to pick up their glasses. "The amount of people who stop by now and say, 'Oh, I didn't notice you before,' has definitely increased. So it helps."
Beaverton City Councilor Ian King said he's certainly willing to consider changing city regulations to accommodate higher concentrations of food cart pods to broaden the area's ethnic food palette.
"I am open to the possibility," he said. "I'm willing to listen to the proposal. I just want to see what the plan would be."Add a comment