Last month, Melissa Drake's modest business in the Ardenwald neighborhood became the source of a cautionary tale for other entrepreneurs in Portland's booming food-cart business.
Drake bought her drive-thru espresso stand almost seven years ago. She says that her small Southeast Portland business, Wake and Bake, has a loyal and supportive base of customers who come in nearly every morning.
But last month, Drake got a complaint from the City of Portland saying that her stand on Southeast Johnson Creek Road violated zoning laws for a drive-thru business because its location in a parking lot blocked the flow of nearby traffic.
On Friday, Drake got an extension to keep her espresso stand open until she can get her cart to comply with Portland's zoning codes. And other similarly situated business owners got a lesson, even if they didn't ask for one.
This was not the first time Portland officials with the Bureau of Development Services, which enforces the city's zoning code, noticed the problem at Wake and Bake's parking lot. Back in March 2003, city officials notified the stand's former owners of the violation. But Drake says the former owners "sold her their problem" without telling her about it when she bought the stand in December 2003.
"I know how to be a mom, and I know how to make coffee, but I don't know how to navigate City Hall," Drake said recently while explaining the zoning-code problem.
Ross Caron, a spokesman for the Bureau of Development Services, says there may be a lesson for other food-cart or espresso-stand operators in Portland. Namely, if you're thinking of opening a Portland business, you should do your research.
Caron also recommends checking with his bureau to see if a business you're interested in buying has outstanding zoning-code violations. Just like buying a house, "you're making an investment," says Caron.