SALEM, OR – It’s a foodie’s dream. A collection of food vendors, assembled in a bustling “pod” on an inner-city lot. Each small-time entrepreneur sells made-from- scratch foods, often for modest prices. Cuisine choices cover the gamut from Mexican to Middle Eastern.
If that sounds appetizing, head to Portland.
City of Salem regulations dating to 1994 ban clusters of food trucks and trailers from gathering on private property. No vending is allowed in the public-right-of-way. And food trucks that call on multiple locations can stay in one spot for no longer than two hours.
“The rules in Salem pretty much make it impossible for most of us to make a living at it,” said Richard Foote, a representative of the Salem Food Truck Association. He has a vested interest in seeing food trucks succeed: his Oregon Crepe Company includes a specialty bakery that supplies breads to food vendors.
But Salem may yet catch-up with the street food craze. Salem City Council recently asked city staff to draft an ordinance that would loosen restrictions on food trucks and trailers.
“Council asked us to fast-track this item so we are intending to do that,” said Glenn Gross, they city’s community development director. The city hopes to have a new ordinance ready by the summer, he said.
Most mobile food vendors in Salem have a second job, or rely on income from a spouse to pay the bills, Foote said. He estimated that about 20 food trucks and trailers operate in Salem.
The only way for several food vendors to gather in one spot, even temporarily, is obtain a special events permit, such those issued for the city’s World Beat festival.
” I would love to see a little taste of what Portland’s got, or even Eugene,” said Chad Lewis, owner of Chad’s Smoking Barbecue, a food truck and catering service.
Lewis figures he could be selling more brisket, pulled pork and ribs if Salem its relaxed rules. He sees plenty of potential customers in industrial areas with few nearby restaurants, as well as in Salem’s downtown where state employees, Willamette University students and others might want to grab a quick bite.
Since October, Carmen and Minh Nguyen have ran “Fusion Semi-Authentic Vietnamese Foods.” Finding places to park their food truck, however, has been an obstacle.
For example, the couple once did a good business selling curry rice bowls and Vietnamese sandwiches in the parking lot of a Salem shopping center. But restaurants in the shopping center soon complained to the landlord about the competition. Fusion, which was initially invited to the location, had to leave.
“It was really unfortunate. It was a fun place to be,” Carmen Nguyen said.
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