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Food cart presence near Turtle Place builds slowly

Pods close to C-Tran bus terminus hope to gain momentum but have hit snags

By , Columbian staff writer
3 Photos
Josh Pope of Wilsonville, Ore., grabs lunch from the window at Vida Flare. Pope and his co-workers, who work across the street, said they, like many nearby workers and residents, are eager for more food options.
Josh Pope of Wilsonville, Ore., grabs lunch from the window at Vida Flare. Pope and his co-workers, who work across the street, said they, like many nearby workers and residents, are eager for more food options. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Alyssa Diltz was headed to her usual lunch spot in downtown Vancouver when she caught sight of the colorful Vida Flare.

Parked on the broad sidewalk of C-Tran’s downtown bus terminus, Turtle Place, the food cart served up cuisine from the southwestern United States and Mexico. Diltz, 30, made a detour; she wanted to try something new.

“It’s been exciting to see the growth (in food options),” said Diltz, a Portland resident who works in downtown Vancouver for a creative agency.

That sentiment is driving organizations to try to broaden downtown’s menu of food carts, restaurants and bars. One area of downtown, along Seventh Street, near Main Street, is trying to bring two food cart pods about a block from each other — one at Columbia Food Park and the other at Turtle Place.

Both are hoping to gain momentum soon but have hit some snags.

Although C-Tran approved food carts and trucks at Turtle Place in May, the first did not arrive until July 6. Vida Flare’s arrival Friday was just the second time a food cart has been at the terminus. The reason, according to C-Tran’s Development and Public Affairs Director Scott Patterson, is two-fold.

First, the agency is prioritizing the health of its bus operations at Turtle Place, which debuted in 2017. Bus riders are receptive to food carts so far, but the businesses create some trash that C-Tran is determined to clean up.

“When we were planning the station, we knew we’d plan infrastructure for the possibility of food carts there, but in terms of scaling up (to hosting more food carts), we want to make sure it doesn’t place an undue burden on services, like cleanup and that sort of thing,” he said.

Food carts are also busier in the summer, Patterson said. For example, Vida Flare would have been at Turtle Place the previous Friday had it not been for a previously scheduled catering event. There were no food trucks that week.

“We knew going in that this was going to be a little bit of trial and error and see how this works and (gauge) the interest level,” Patterson said. “The more you can build a consistent presence, the better off it will be for attracting more people.”

So far, the results have been promising.

Patterson and Vida Flare co-owner Carmen McKibben both said about 70 customers showed up the first day. Many came from nearby businesses, McKibben said, such as the fast-growing market intelligence company DiscoverOrg, which boasts around 400 employees, as well as downtown apartments, such as Vancouvercenter.

“A lot of them don’t want to drive to uptown. It’s close — but the parking,” she said.

Turtle Place could host trucks more regularly when business calms down for the food trucks, Patterson said. By setting up together, he said it could turn into a hub in the off-season.

That could complement Columbia Food Park, which would host about four eateries at 108 E. Seventh St. The project has been discussed since early 2017, but its founders have struggled to find financing, including a Kickstarter campaign that fell short in April 2017. Founder Alex Mickle said he’s now financing the project himself.

“It’s very much a passion project and will continue to be a passion project until I get everything nailed down,” said Mickle, whose day job is as a manager at DiscoverOrg.

Columbia Food Park is already home to a burrito stand called Mack Shack but could soon add a barbecue joint, taproom and pizza place. Mickle said they first need to renovate the rear portion of the 4,500-square-foot plaza, install a commercial kitchen and fix up two rest rooms. That could start in August, he said, and be completed in September.

“Funding is secured, contractors are secured, we just have to break ground and finalize the timeline,” he said. “We just got approval to raise the occupancy from 49 to 150 (people). That was one of the big delays for the project, but it’s been finalized at the city as well.”

AndreaLea Mack, whose Mack Shack is the most consistent food cart or truck in the area, said she’s excited for everything to fall into place. So far, she has been making just enough to stay open, she said, which she attributes to the regulars. That could change with more faces, though.

“I’m just eager for the food park to get going, for the Mack Shack to take off,” she said.

Columbian staff writer

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