A pioneer in Portland food carts, Bo Kwon hails from Tigard and in 2009 founded Koi Fusion, a Korean-Mexican food truck concept currently with five food trucks and micro-restaurants. Now he's opening Cart Lab, a massive 7,000-square-foot space at 1831 SW River Dr. (formerly Lil Cooperstown) that'll be home to four food carts inside of a bar. Kwon describes the RiverPlace area comprising the southern tip of Tom McCall Waterfront Park as "the last piece" of Portland waterfront left to be developed.
"I want to bring soul to this building and space," Kwon tells Eater. "When I look around RiverPlace, I want to see families and people who don't want to deal with parking on Division" (an aside, Koi Fusion shuttered its brick and mortar on SE Division earlier this month).
Cart Lab will have a throwback, 90s sports vibe, and since Kwon was always a "Nike kid," plan for things like "old-school Michael Jordan Nike posters." He says Cart Lab will have good prices and fast service, and inside, the four micro-restaurants will be operated by the four food carts, Koi Fusion, PDX Sliders, FoMo Korean Fried Chicken, and Wasabi Sushi.
Dubbed "food cart alley" and located in the rear of the venue, Cart Lab food will be for both those looking to grab something on the go and those looking for a sit-down meal. Each food cart will share the huge industrial kitchen left by Lil Cooperstown and serve food straight to diners through a window from the kitchen.
Koi Fusion currently operates three micro-restaurants, or restaurant kiosks, so Kwon is well-versed in their benefits and challenges. "When you get outside of a food truck's tiny kitchen, you want to do more creative things," he says.
Because "drinking and food carts are Siamese twins," Cart Lab's bar will serve liquor and wine and have 20 taps pouring local craft beers, and the large dining room will offer seating and televisions for watching sports. There will be a kids play area, too.
And in one final surprise, Kwon tells Eater he'll add a rotating food cart to the repertoire as well. It's too early to tell who will be involved, but Kwon says he's speaking with a couple of the city's hottest chefs, as well as a notable small-batch ice cream producer.