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Downtown Portland's Ankeny West food carts slow to gain momentum

Bad weather, crime and the lasting impacts of the pandemic have all added to the struggle.

PORTLAND, Ore. — It's been nearly a year since the Ankeny West food cart pod was set up along West Burnside and, according to business owners, it hasn't been easy. Bad weather, crime and the lasting impacts of the pandemic have all added to the struggle.

But owners like Ray Maestas are holding on, determined to succeed.

“My hope was this,” said Maestas, pointing to the predominantly absent sun and blue skies that graced the last day of spring Monday afternoon.

Maestas had been tracking the weather since April when he moved his business, Rachel and Rose, into Ankeny West. He serves beer, wine and coffee drinks out of a double decker bus, making it unique among the pod’s eight food carts.

“Not only was it rainy, but it was cold,” said Maestas of the past couple months. 

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Mohamad Zreik owns Kafta House. It’s one of several food carts that moved to Ankeny West last July. 

For several years, it was parked at a food cart pod on Southwest 10th and Alder, before that site was developed into a hotel. For Zreik, the struggle has been less about bad weather and more about potential customers still working from home.

“My space before here… very, very good business,” said Zreik. “Here, no… I wish more boy, girl, man, women, work in office.”

Zreik said in addition to slow business, his food cart has been broken into four times in its new location. 

Maestas has also dealt with crime. A few weeks ago, he said his wife was working around lunchtime when a man sexually assaulted her.

“He was trying to steal tip jars from everybody he could. Then I think when he saw my wife, he just decided to hop the bar,” said Maestas. “She fought him off. [Police] caught him right away… It’s super unlikely for that to happen, but it did happen.”

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Maestas said despite the alleged attack which was first reported by The Oregonian, he's keeping his business at Ankeny West, knowing how far the area has come.

“Before they opened it up it was chained up and graffiti… It's remarkably clean now.”

Keith Jones is executive director of Friends of Green Loop, which opened Ankeny West in July 2021. He admitted that he thought the food cart pod would be busier by now but said he also knew it would be hard. 

“There are safety issues downtown and you just have to be aware of things,” said Jones. “We're trying our best to do everything we can.”

Jones said there's room for five more food carts at Ankeny West and they're planning to add shipping containers as retail space. He said they're also providing grants through Prosper Portland to cover repair costs for cart owners after break-ins.

“Remember, Alder Street took 20 years to become Alder Street and we're not even through our first year,” said Jones. “We've started to see more people showing up now and more office workers starting to return, which gives everyone hope.”

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