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Get the skinny on the food cart biz from Portland pros


PORTLAND, Ore. - Brian and Lisa Wood of the Big-Ass Sandwiches food cart wrote a manual on how to start your own cart (at foodcartsportland.com).

So I fired off some questions:

Q. How did you get this prime location- In Chicago there would be some kind of big ass payoff.

A. "No location is hotter than any other location," answered Brian. Lisa added, "People go where the food is. We picked this spot because we liked the neighborhood. It's by a bunch of bars."

The sandwich cart is also across the street from the iconic Voodoo Doughnut shop, 22 SW Third Ave. (503-241-4704) that serves the Memphis Mafia (fried dough with banana chunks and cinnamon sugar covered in a glaze with chocolate frosting, peanut butter, peanuts and chocolate chips). But Chicagoans would want to try The Loop: a raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and a pile of Fruit Loops. The shop is co-owned by rock ‘n' roll impresario and former mayoral candidate Tres Shannon, who once said of Portland, "We need to stop being ‘The City That Works' and start being ‘The City That Works and Takes a Nap.'"

Brian said, "When we started in this lot there was nobody here. In the eight months it took us to get it going, we were the fourth cart (joining seafood, waffles and Hawaiian carts).

Rather than compete with the surrounding carts, they often refer customers to one another.

Brian nodded to the Hawaiian cart next door and said, "If our food is too much, we go, ‘Dude, she has really good oranges.' It's all about community."

Q. How do food permits work-

A. "There is no actual permit to put the cart here," Lisa answered. "We have fire and health inspections. We pay the lot owner rent, $500 a month (which includes electricity and garbage disposal; the carts are responsible for their own water.) It's like renting a parking spot. It's so simple."

County health inspections are conducted on a drop-in basis. "We opened December 21, 2009," Brian said. "Our first health inspection was early February. If you don't look at the health department like they're going to beat you up, but that they will help, then they'll help you out. They're supposed to visit once a year."

Q. Did "brick and mortar" restaurateurs feel threatened as the food cart scene grew-

A. "A lot of those restaurants are now creating their own food carts," Lisa said. "Absolutely there's some who think we're taking their business. Some serve bad pizza as a vehicle to their beer. We're serving food. There's a [Morton's] steakhouse down the street. If you're going there you're clearly not looking for a sandwich with fries." And acclaimed Portland restaurants like the Cup n' Saucer and Koi Fusion started as food carts.

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