Five food carts, Phat Cart, Krua Bangkok, Rice and Noodle, Comfortably Yum and The Fusion Box, are out of business after an early morning fire ravaged Southwest 4th Avenue on Tuesday morning. The sad state of affairs has subjected the city's food cart laws to renewed scrutiny. Some critics mention the potential hazard of allowing row upon row of combustible, propane-fueled carts to coexist side by side.
To date, Portland food carts regulations are relatively vague. Unlike in regular brick and mortar restaurants, no fire suppression devices are required and health department screening is said to be lax. In response to some semi-related allegations in the comments section of this Oregonian news post one-time city commissioner Randy Leonard himself chimes in:
The 2010 warning message — in which Leonard "asked building inspectors to make illegal food cart lots a top priority" — was a response to complaints about the lot where the fire broke out yesterday morning along with the nearby lot on Southwest Third Avenue.
There's speculation that Leonard didn't subsequently overhaul the city's food cart codes due to the fact that moneyed Portland families own and oversee them. The Goodmans control the Third Avenue lot, and the Saltzmans own the other through a privately held investment portfolio.
In response to the recent fire, Portland Fire Bureau spokesman Chris Schimmer told the Oregonian "We want to see if we can learn anything about making this a safer environment for all the food carts...Right now, food carts are still a gray area. They're not heavily regulated, but for right now, we're going to make sure that propane use is safe."