Greek Cusina owner Ted Papas' quest to quash Portland's food carts is gaining political muscle. Papas' nascent organization, FARE (Formal Association of Restaurant Entrepreneurs), is joining forces with the Oregon Restaurant Association, an influential statewide lobby, to shut down what they view as unfair competition.
"We've got to make public parking lots operate for the license they have--to park cars," Papas declared Monday evening at FARE's inaugural meeting, which was attended by roughly 50 restaurateurs in the Minoan Room of the Greek Cusina at 404 SW Washington St.
"If it has to go to court, so be it," Papas said, to thunderous applause.
Only one of the restaurateurs in attendance was an ORA member, but Papas intends to change that, vowing to make FARE a chapter of ORA. His amplified voice booming across tables set with white linen tablecloths, Papas reeled off a lengthy menu of grievances: The trailers are trashy, there are too many of them, and, most of all, their rock-bottom prices threaten to turn downtown into a ghost town of boarded-up restaurants.
But when he got to the requirement that restaurants have handicapped access, Julie Markussen, one of a few cart owners present, spoke up, pointing out that she easily serves two wheelchair-bound regulars at her transit-mall cart, International Bento.
Papas brushed off Markussen's remarks before digressing into a vitriolic tirade against restaurant critics and the media (including WW), government officials, and any who would oppose him. "If you do not come out of your little hole," he promised, "I'm going to bring you out of your little hole."
Many of the area's 400 to 500 food carts occupy the City Center parking lots owned by the powerful Goodman family, renting the space for about $600-$850 per month.
Not all the restaurateurs agreed with Papas. No Fish? Go Fish! owner John Doyne, who operates three downtown pushcarts in addition to his restaurant, pointed out that restaurants enjoy revenues such as liquor and lottery that are unavailable to cart operators.
The escalating attack has galvanized Portland's cart operators, who are now beginning to organize themselves. At a hastily called outdoor summit Monday afternoon on the corner of Southwest Fifth Avenue and Stark Street, they circulated leaflets and mapped out strategies. Several report a sharp rise in sales since Papas' campaign began.