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Food Cart Phenomenon Jojo Is Going Brick-and-Mortar. Owner Justin Hintze Says COVID-19 Helped It Happen.

Known as much for its social media presence as its world-beating chicken sandwich, the cart swiftly became one of the most popular in the city.

WW presents “Distant Voices,” a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they’re doing during quarantine.

In Justin Hintze's opinion, reports of the Portland food scene's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

That's not to downplay the devastation the pandemic has wrought on the restaurant industry. But from his point of view, the seismic shifts of the last year are less a full-scale apocalypse than an accelerated changing of the guard.

Then again, Hintze is perhaps a bit biased. After all, he's one of the restaurateurs picking up the mantle. A former real estate agent, Hintze launched his food cart, Jojo, in 2019. Known as much for its social media presence as its world-beating chicken sandwich, the cart was a swift success bordering on a phenomenon.

Now, Hintze is joining the ranks of Gumba, GrindWitTryz and other popular carts that have quickly graduated to brick-and-mortar businesses. In a few months, he's moving into the former Daily Cafe space in the Pearl, where he'll serve Jojo favorites, expanded vegan variations and boozy milkshakes.

One might call it a meteoric rise, particularly for someone with no prior kitchen experience—but to hear him tell it, it wouldn't have happened quite so fast without a global health crisis.

"COVID, counterintuitively, has expedited the process," Hintze says. "A lot of restaurants closed, which opened up customers for the carts…In between that and the market for commercial restaurant leasing—it's very much a buyer's market right now—I was able to get a great deal on a space."

In this interview with WW, Hintze discusses the accelerated cart-to-restaurant migration, the differences between cart scene and the brick-and-mortar world, and where he sees the Portland food community going post-pandemic.

See more Distant Voices interviews here.