PORTLAND, Ore. — Soccer and food carts. It doesn’t get more Portland.
Already famous for its bike lanes, microbrews and rain, the Pacific Northwest city has also become home to a vibrant food cart scene. So it follows that the Timbers, known for being part of Portland’s culture as well as embracing it, are featuring food cart cuisine at several home matches this season.
At a recent rivalry match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Timbers nodded to soccer’s European roots by featuring a taste of the Frying Scotsman food cart. The fare was naturally cod ‘n chips or haddock `n chips.
Chef James King is the real deal, hailing from the west coast of Scotland.
His food cart won the honor of serving at Jeld-Wen Field in a survey of fans on Facebook.
“It’s all part of being part of the fabric of the city in a very real way,” said Mike Golub, the team’s chief operating officer. “We have a lot of young, fun creative people who are from here and live here and eat here. And we also try to listen to what our fans want. Really, we’ve worked to build an organization that is part of Portland, so I feel we have a pretty good sense of what’s going on here.”
It’s what the Timbers do. The team’s first marketing campaign centered on edgy images of real supporters wielding chainsaws, axes and other logging implements. And the team took to the city’s green sensibilities by partnering with Friends of Trees so that every time the Timbers score a goal, a tree is planted.
Regular stadium concessions have also included local flavor, from chocolate-covered bacon to savory vegetarian hand pies known as pasties.
Food carts have taken off in recent years around Portland, numbering up to 600 mobile restaurants, according to recent estimates. The curbside cuisine is eclectic, ranging from Czech to Venezuelan and everything in between.
These are not anything like the so-called “roach coaches” of the past. Foodies get great food at cheap prices — the only drawback being that they have to find their own spot to eat — and promising chefs can showcase their talent without the expense of a traditional restaurant.
That’s what attracted King and his wife, Sally Murdoch King.
In 2008, they refurbished a dilapidated 1978 trailer found on Craigslist and were in business in two weeks. They went from two customers the first day to 25 the next. With the help of Sally’s grassroots marketing blitz, there soon came a day when King had to put up a “sold out” sign by 12:30 p.m.
Sally grew up in Portland and understands why food carts are so popular.
“Portland is a creative town that supports people pulling themselves up by the bootstraps,” she said. “There’s a special spirit here that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
Even Timbers midfielder Sal Zizzo is joining in. Fittingly for a guy named Salvatore, Zizzo’s food cart serves up Italian food. It’s not a gimmick — Zizzo’s family has run restaurants in Southern California.
This Friday night for their match against Colorado, the Timbers will bring in Asian cuisine from Stumptown Dumplings.
Of course, it would be all the more of a feel-good partnership if the team was doing better.
The Timbers are 6-13-6 this season, in last place in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference. In July, they fired head coach John Spencer and replaced him for the rest of the season with general manager Gavin Wilkinson.
A 2-1 victory over the Whitecaps last Saturday snapped an eight-match winless streak.
But the disappointing overall results haven’t diminished the fervor of the team’s ardent supporters. The victory over the Whitecaps was the team’s 30th regular-season sellout. The team, which recently announced it would not raise season ticket prices next season, has 7,500 fans on the season ticket waiting list.
This week the Timbers did take a hopeful look to the future by hiring Caleb Porter, who has had success at the University of Akron for seven seasons, to be the team’s new head coach starting in 2013.
One Twitter user even joked that some enterprising microbrewery would no doubt craft a porter for the coach.