Recently, as I drove through Portland Oregon, I passed several food carts that were closed for winter. It got me wondering what the operators of these carts do for income while they wait for better weather to re-open in the spring. It also makes me wonder why these people chose to open a food cart rather than sell seasonally at special events with a food concession. I assume the need for a full-time income is the main reason. But, if a food cart is forced to close for lack of sales, what is the advantage of having a food cart? Do they prefer to sell from a stationary location, regardless, rather than set-up at temporary events? Or, are there other reasons?
I suspect that many food cart operators want a full-time income but didn't know in advance of opening how well they would do month-by-month. It is no small thing to design a food cart and menu, become licensed, and commit to a location. And, it is not until the cart has been open through the seasons that they learn if their location and menu will produce a steady income. At that point, if their location doesn't sustain adequate sales, it is difficult and expensive to move a food cart to a better location.
Food carts depend on foot traffic for business. When the weather is cold and wet too many customers remain indoors or rush past clutching their umbrellas. Depending on their location, some food carts can provide their customers a warm, dry place to eat with an awning, propane heater and picnic tables set in front of their cart. Other carts are restricted from doing this.
Aside from the loss of income, closing for the winter months creates other problems. While the food cart sits shuttered the operator needs to worry about vandalism, theft, frozen water pipes and mold. And, the rent still needs to be paid. For those carts operators who remain open though sales have slowed to a trickle, the task of supplying the cart, preparing food and maintaining its quality, and the long hours sitting within the small cart watching the beans bubble, with very little return at the end of the day, creates its own angst.
As I look out at the freezing fog I am glad my food concession is tucked-in for the winter. I don't need to even think about it until spring.
I think next time I'm in Portland I will buy my lunch from a food cart and tip generously, even if the weather is a gully-washer.