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Cartlandia wins over hearts of 82nd Avenue community

Food cart pod's 'citizen watch' boosts sagging neighborhood


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT -  Jim Ginotti pours a beer into a red cup inside the Cartlandia beer garden for a customer. Despite initial concerns from the OLCC and police, the beer garden has been a mellow place.It’s one of those Portland scenes that prompts people to remark, as so often occurs these days, that it seems “right out of ‘Portlandia.’ “

Ten hardy souls are sipping drinks on a chilly Friday night at the outdoor beer garden of the Cartlandia food carts, watching the latest “Portlandia” episode on a big TV screen over the din of a portable heater and traffic whizzing by on 82nd Avenue.

You might call it Cartlandia watches “Portlandia” in the middle of Carlandia.

Despite the modest turnout, Cartlandia is demonstrating that food carts, when done right, can flourish in a low-income Portland neighborhood — and maybe even help turn it around.

When Roger Goldingay bought the abandoned used-car lot in October 2010, it was enclosed by a screened cyclone fence topped with barbed wire and razor wire.

“It looked like a prison yard,” Goldingay recalls. “It was very uninviting.”

The 1-acre parcel just north of Johnson Creek was part of a sea of nondescript auto and RV-related businesses and asphalt lots on a dead stretch of Southeast 82nd Avenue largely devoid of foot traffic. Another side of the triangular parcel bordered an overgrown stretch of the Springwater Corridor trail oft-used for drug deals, prostitution and a homeless encampment.

Eric Wikoff, Brentwood/Darlington Neighborhood Association chairman, recalls when Goldingay brought his vision for Cartlandia to an association meeting “We thought this is amazing,” Wikoff says. “Somebody’s taking a chance on our neighborhood and having a gathering place for people.”

After opening in May 2011, Goldingay landed just six food carts. Now Cartlandia hosts 17 carts plus Oregon’s first beer garden at a food-cart pod. Weather permitting, as it did on a recent sunny Friday afternoon, Cartlandia attracts a crowd of families, young adults, neighbors and suburbanites. During the summer, Goldingay says, sometimes 32 bike stalls aren’t enough to handle all the customers arriving on two wheels.

“It seems like a cultural heartbeat, honestly, of the community,” Wikoff says.

Goldingay first experienced success with his Mississippi Marketplace food-cart pod on North Mississippi Street, which he opened in 2009. He saw the potential of thousands of cars driving on 82nd Avenue daily, the new MAX stop within 10 minutes’ walk, and an increasingly popular bicycle trail, where he hoped to lure many customers anxious for a meal stop.

Goldingay operates like a one-man urban renewal agency.

First he tore up the asphalt lot and installed underground electricity, gas, water, sewers and a grease entrapment system. He put up high-powered lights to bolster security.

He petitioned Portland Parks & Recreation to mow the chest-high grass crowding the Springwater Corridor. In exchange, Goldingay agreed to take over landscape maintenance of the multi-use trail from 82nd Avenue to Harney Street. He trimmed low-hanging branches to improve visibility and makes sure it’s regularly mowed.

“They were dealing drugs and turning tricks right here,” he says, pointing to the trail just west of 82nd Avenue. He and the food cart owners serve as a “citizens patrol” at the bridge over Johnson Creek as it crosses 82nd Avenue.

Jimmy Knight, whose Rock House Grill food cart is strategically located in view of 82nd Avenue and the Springwater Corridor, keeps an eagle eye on the trouble spot.

“I keep the girls walking and I keep the dope sales from happening,” Knight says.

He and other cart owners work closely with local police.

“I know all the officers that patrol here by name,” Knight says. Some are regulars at the food carts.

A state of disuse

Goldingay says he’s already spent $1.5 million on Cartlandia, and isn’t done. Winter months are tough in the food cart business, he says. “This is a big-time gamble. It’s not easy. It takes a lot of time and it’s expensive.”

But business is solid for nine months out of the year.

“We’re well within the projections of what it’s going to take,” Goldingay says. “We’ve become a destination.”

One regular customer, seeing the owner being interviewed, eagerly interrupts to offer an unsolicited review. “Everybody’s talking about this place” in the neighborhood, says Glenn Johnson, who moved down the street two years ago.

So how is it affecting the neighborhood? “It’s had people eating good food,” he smiles.

But this stretch of 82nd Avenue still has a long way to go before anyone compares it to Mississippi Avenue.

Johnni Beth Jones, a volunteer with the 82nd Avenue of Roses Business Association, says she’s gone up and down the auto-oriented corridor to enlist business owners to join the association.

She was initially skeptical the food cart pod would work there.

“That was the scariest part of 82nd,” she says. “When it starts to get dusk, it looks sketchy.”

But a food cart pod brings several new small-business owners to an area at once, she says, which can be a positive influence. “Roger really has a passion for keeping it safe, keeping it clean.”

The first new business to crop up since Cartlandia’s successful launch figures to Goldingay’s. He’s remodeling the old aluminum building on his lot, which served as the used-car lot office, into a pub serving Oregon craft beers. The city is making him redo the sidewalk out front, adding curb appeal from 82nd Avenue. And Goldingay hopes to offer live music.

Craft beer, music, food carts and bicycles? What could be more Portland these days?

Before Cartlandia arrived, Goldingay says the neighborhood lacked anything “cool.” But Bike Gallery recently opened a new bicycle shop 12 blocks south on 82nd Avenue. And there’s a new park planned a few blocks to the west near Luther Road, on a 10-acre parcel purchased by Metro in 2009, between the Springwater Corridor and Johnson Creek. Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services plans to replace an exposed sewer pipe across Johnson Creek, and restore and reroute part of the creek to improve habitat and prevent untreated stormwater from entering the creek. The bureau then will plant grass, lay trails and hand the site to the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District to operate the park.

The site, according to the BES website, has been in “a state of disuse for many years,” and also was home to a homeless encampment.

In years past, the Brentwood/Darlington neighborhood was saddled with the “felony flats” moniker. Now young adults are moving in, taking advantage of low-cost homes, Wikoff says. “It’s time to bury that term.”