Kyle Rensmeyer wasn’t a household name in barbecue when he opened Holy Trinity in 2019. The Dallas native had moved to Portland in 2014 with no experience in professional cooking, but he had a goal—bring true Texas-style barbecue to Portland. He started with a pop-up concept, Q PDX, selling barbecue via Instagram. In spring of 2019, the food cart Holy Trinity opened on Southeast Powell in a mostly derelict lot. It was named for the three core items Rensmeyer would always sell: smoky, spicy sausage; delicate, pink-hued ribs; and an incredible 14-hour smoked brisket. Joined by sides and specials, the holy trinity of meat quickly made the food cart a Portland hot spot. Holy Trinity landed on Eater Portland’s list of essential restaurants soon after its first anniversary, and Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn called the cart “one of several impressive barbecue operations in a city that might have the best Texas-style lineup in the country outside the Lone Star State.” Sadly, after two and a half years, Rensmeyer will serve his last brisket on Saturday, October 23.
Rensmeyer posted the news to Instagram on Wednesday night, writing that if it wasn’t the week of the 23rd, it would be the following week, or the week after. He explained that it took only two weeks of poor sales to weaken the business to the point that he could not realistically last the winter. “Theres no foreseeable future where we make it through the winter,” he wrote.
COVID-19 — and the safety precautions that state and local governments put into place to deal with it — has hit food carts differently that brick and mortars. A certain amount of flexibility, lack of reliance on dining rooms, pre-existing takeout programs, and (often) lower rent has generally meant that food carts were more adaptable — at least in 2020. 2021 saw frost storms in winter that shut down restaurants across the city, and the summer’s devastating heat wave was especially destructive to carts, breaking equipment and endangering workers’ lives. Break-ins and burglaries became almost regular news. And carts like Holy Trinity — which rely primarily on meat sales — dealt with meat shortages and rising prices since the pandemic began. Rensmeyer maintained transparency on his social media about the need to raise prices, but it was too much. “It’s become apparent that our location, coupled with increased costs on our end have caused our demise,” the post explains. Rensmeyer declined to comment beyond the Instagram statement.
Diners will have until October 23 to stop by, support the cart, and enjoy some of his incredible smoked meats. And in his post, Rensmeyer asked people to support their favorite carts and restaurants, too. “If you love a business, go support the hell outta them,” he wrote. “And tell your friends. It makes a difference. Maybe the difference between you eating their food again vs the last time.”