Multiple food carts in three different cart pods in NE and SE Portland have reported that they were burglarized early in the morning of Sunday, December 13. Cart owners at Rose City Food Park, the Lot at Scout Beer, and the Bite on Belmont each reported that a burglar (or burglars) broke into their carts, most commonly by prying doors open. While little was reported to have been stolen, the property damage and sense of violation are demoralizing for the carts’ owners, especially at the end of a difficult year.
Brian Steadham, owner of the vegan sandwich cart Dinger’s Deli in the Bite on Belmont, told Eater that whoever broke into his cart used some kind of prying device, likely a crowbar, to wrench his door open without breaking the heavy lock. “They tacoed my door in half because the lock wouldn’t break. They were able to bend the steel door to get in,” he says. The perpetrator only made off with around $30 in petty cash, Steadham said, but the damage to his truck and the loss of a service day amounts to around $1,600 in losses. “It’s always devastating for a small business to make up for anything since we’re already stretched out,” Steadham says, adding that winter is particularly hard on food carts, with their sales dipping considerably during the rainy, colder months.
Along with Dinger’s Deli, Japanese food cart Belmont Kitchen, Brazilian House, and Poblano Pepper, a Mexican food truck, were all similarly broken into at the pod. Hindsight Beer Cart, which provides the pod with beer and wine, was also broken into; here, the burglar pushed in the air conditioning unit to make a space to climb through. It’s unclear whether they made it in and stole anything or not.
At the Rose City Food Park on NE Sandy Boulevard, at least seven food carts were similarly burglarized. Chris McLaughlin, the lot’s property manager and bar manager for its beer cart, Adda Beer, says that security footage shows the alleged perpetrator at the food cart pod between 2:45 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. He describes a male figure as “...wearing a grey jacket with a red hood, and also had a red tool bag,” and that he left in a black SUV that may have been a Chevy. He adds that the lot has been hit before. Last time, burglars stole a number of propane tanks from the food carts.
Speaking with Eater, owners of two food carts at Rose City described nearly identical methods of burglary as the carts on Belmont, with their doors being jimmied off their hinges with a crowbar or similar device. “They seemed to have pried through with, I imagine, a crowbar,” says Patrick Carney, owner of the Nordic-meets-Celtic cart Skidbladnir. “I put a big metal lock on the door, and they were able to get that off.”
Like other owners, Carney lost more in damages and sales than he did in theft. Nearby, Tequiza Vegana, a vegan Mexican cart, had its door pried open from the bottom, with the thief reportedly then crawling in. The cart’s owner said that in addition to a Bluetooth speaker, the burglar absconded with a donation box to the Oregon Humane Society.
Food carts at the Lot at Scout Beer on SE 50th and Division posted images of their food carts with doors nearly torn off their hinges. An employee at Scout Beer reported to Eater that carts including the burger cart Doghouse and Los Palomas were both broken into, though again there seemed to be less stolen and more damage.
A representative of the Portland Police Bureau informed Eater that only one police report was filed about the burglaries, for the Belmont food carts. On the similarities between cases, though, he wrote, “I cannot confirm suspect information of [sic] if they are all connected, I could only assume they were. This was a specific MO during a specific timeframe, which would lead me to believe they were connected.”
Despite the crimes, many food cart owners and operators were reluctant to call the police or file a report. Speaking with Eater, numerous operators expressed frustration with inaction on the behalf of the police. “We have surveillance but it doesn’t give you justice. We’ve become disgruntled with PPB and their response to these things,” said one worker, who wished to remain anonymous. “People don’t feel like they get helped. Very few carts are even calling to make a report.”
This is a developing story, and will be updated with any further information.