Foods & Culinary

How Portland’s iconic food carts deal with this weekend’s 110-degree weather forecast

Skidbladnir owner Patrick Carney knew that wouldn’t be good: His Nordic food truck – known for meaty cold-weather dishes like Swedish meatballs and lamb sandwiches – relies on an almost 20-year-old refrigerator. But with meteorologists who expect potentially record breaking temperatures In Portland this weekend, he’s nervous that the entire refrigerator will fail. If the refrigerator dies, it will have lost $ 1,500 to $ 2,000; If the refrigerator is full of groceries, it has lost another $ 500 to $ 800.

So he got smart: he drilled holes in the metal doors of his cart to let the heat escape. He changes his menu so as not to turn the oven on all the way to reduce the potential for radiant heat. And he plans to open and close earlier each day, with a new brunch menu for the occasion: smorrebrod with a cool shrimp salad, salads with homemade salmon, omelets. “This whole year was just pivot after pivot. Now I almost get dizzy when I try to stay open, ”he says. “I’m going to make less money this way, but I just have to make enough to survive.”

Food trucks have been exposed to extreme temperatures for years; it’s a fact of the job. In the years leading up to 2020, a heat wave usually resulted in a cart being closed prematurely for a day or two. But after more than a year of adding the COVID-19 pandemic, forest fire smoke and snowstorms, many car owners feel they cannot sacrifice the lost revenue. Instead, they find another solution to the escalating problems that employees in the hospitality industry are confronted with on a daily basis.

Food trucks are nimble out of necessity: Due to their sheer size, things like storing food can be a challenge, and the overcrowding of food trucks in Portland is forcing people to take risks to stand out. They’re also more exposed to the elements than other restaurants and bars, making it difficult to control the temperature in a car during extreme weather events. Food carts are essentially kitchens in large metal boxes; When it gets hot outside, the temperatures inside the car rise another 10 to 15 degrees. These temperatures get even hotter when carts rely on ovens or hot ovens.

Extreme temperatures are of course extremely dangerous: when a person’s body temperature reaches 104 degrees, heat stroke begins, causing headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue; at 107 degrees the organs begin to fail. As a result, many carts have chosen to just get out of work this weekend. “I’m closed on Saturday and Sunday. It’s too hot, ”says Erica Montgomery, owner of Erica’s Soul Food. said in an Instagram post Thursday. “What do I have to prove? Nothing … I’m not trying not to get brain damage to prove a point. “

However, some food truck owners still feel the need to do just enough to get by over the weekend; Instead of flipping burgers or wrapping noodles at 100 degrees heat, trolley owners add menus to avoid the stove, stick to brunch and close early. Richard and Sophia Le von Matta will actually open their car this weekend, but only in the morning; From 10:00 to 12:00, customers can pick up their picnic items, including bún (vermicelli pasta bowls) with pork and fried catfish sandwiches. The cart also has watermelon slushies and mint and lime sodas to cool off. “Let’s face it, we’re going to die in our metal box when we open for normal service this weekend,” and Instagram post on Matta’s page read. “So instead, we’re going to come up with a fun take-away menu that you can take to the river or for a picnic or in an air-conditioned setting.”

Han Ly Hwang, the owner of long-time Korean cart Kim Jong Grillin, has decided to close most of the weekend but is packing boxes with him to combat the lost revenue ready-to-grill, marinated meat so customers can make Korean barbecue at home. Customers could pre-order kits to pick them up on Saturday morning, and then he and his staff could leave the car behind before the heat got too unbearable. For him it was an obvious decision, an innate insight that comes from years of work in food trucks. “I’m a food truck, I’m used to being broke, that’s fine,” he says. “I am not new poor, I am old poor. I know what to do We were always very clever in this fight … We notice that every year in the heat: I’ve built up a bit of credit, I have a Cital One emergency card, that will bring me to that the next day. “

Looking ahead, however, it is likely that these extremely hot days will become more common in Portland; Summers are getting hotter and hotter, which calls into question the sustainability of the food cart as a whole. Kyle Rensmeyer of Holy Trinity Barbecue will be closing his car all weekend, however in an Instagram post, he hinted at a bleak future for him and his colleagues on the kart track. “I’ll tell you right now, summer is no longer the desert oasis Portland food trucks are looking for to get through the winter months,” he writes. “It’s too unreliable in heat waves and forest fires that threaten our climate and our viability. We used to be able to look forward to summer with nice 80-degree days, but I think we will have even more closings in the foreseeable future. “

• An ongoing list of Portland restaurants and food trucks that will be closed due to the heat wave [EPDX]
• The ingenuity of Portland’s grocery carts made them leaders during the pandemic [EPDX]
Cold centers in the Portland area are open 24/7 during the heat wave [O]

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