So we went on a journey to start a food cart in Portland, Oregon ~and it was a rocky one before we finally opened our window to our customers!
There is a lot of information out there but it takes time, patience (and lots of error) to make sense of it all. Along the way, we met some amazing and passionate people helping us putting our business on wheels. I would like to share this information with you, I hope this helps!
1) Read all requirements for food cart licensing with Multnomah County (reopening, remodeling, new cart, types of carts, etc), other helpful links (you will need this link again when your cart is in its designated area to submit all paperwork to the county and get inspection scheduled).
2) Finding the right cart! We decided to buy a new trailer, have the walls, floor, cooking vent (hood) and gas pipes done by a professional.
Ross RV & Food Cart does it all! They did an amazing job at a very reasonable price. They definitely know their business and can help get the right cart and interior. You can get the entire cart outfitted by them but it’s up to you really how much you want to do yourself. *(we did not order the trailer through them but we definitely will when it’s time to get food cart #2, we can’t recommend the place where we got ours but we do recommend Scott Ross and his team!) *we did all electricity and plumbing which leads me to the next guy
3) Plumbing (Freshwater & Graywater Tanks).
Curtis Trailer – great place for all RV needs (also, we bought all the plumbing connections, water tanks and food grade hoses here too)
4) Kitchen Equipment
Restaurant Auctions in your area -compare equipment prices (new and used) online and start bidding on auctions in your area. There are always some auctions going and you can save a lot of money on that sandwich prep table, fridge or steel table or even utensils.
5) Choose a business name (check if it’s available first, also you might want to check if the website name is still available, check Twitter and Facebook…). Register your business. Choose a business form (sole proprietor, LLC, etc), get an EIN (Employer Identification Number).
6) Compare. Compare. Compare.
Get a membership card at Restaurant Depot (it’s free, you just need your business license and tax ID), compare with Cash & Carry (they have lots of eco-friendly to-go containers at a better price, their spices are cheaper -no membership necessary), compare with Costco (if you get the Gold Star Membership, which costs $110/year, you will get 2% cash back points and if you spend up to $200/month, you earned the fee already back and some of their items are cheaper than anywhere else, especially their organic variety -and gas!)
Marketing, Logo, Banners, A-Frame, Decals
Joes Signs -Joe is amazing and so easy to work with! We designed the logo ourselves but he can do the work for you. We had a decal for the back window done by him, several decals for the trailer and an A-Frame to put out on the street
8) Don’t forget to start early with Social Media (Facebook Fan Page, Twitter Account) and share your story along the way. Great way to keep momentum going for opening day and start making friends in your area. You will definitely need it later to share your menu and location daily.
9) Propane License
Go to 1300 SE Gideon St, Mon-Fr 8am-3:30pm, $25 (check) and get your license.
10) Submit all paperwork to Health Department, schedule inspection.
11) Keep all receipts, track your business related car trips! (and get an accountant, I think this is something you don’t want to mess with like taxes and all that…)
We shopped at Lowes, Home Depot, Ikea (shelves) and some other sources online for security cameras and solar lamps for the menu. Most importantly, prices change all the time, so keeping track of expenses is crucial and make sure to compare always.
I will keep this list updated and add sources we use and recommend. If you have any questions, feel free to add a comment and we’ll get back to you.
Thanks to all who helped us build our dream-cart, you have all done an amazing job and you all went above and beyond!