Two start-up food carts in shiny new, city-owned rigs are firing up their kitchens and finalizing menus as they prepare to feed Universal Plaza visitors this Spring.
West Coast Torta and Harvest Moon Experience, restaurants featuring wildly diverse eats, won coveted spots as the Plaza’s only food vendors in a Tigard incubator program that pairs each with business mentors and lets them lease the fully equipped carts for a reduced rate while they grow.
“Helping people to develop a business and develop wealth, that’s what excites me as the city’s economic development director,” Tigard Economic Development Director Lloyd Purdy said.
The Launch Pod program, which is getting attention from Boston, builds off the success of Opportunity Café, a similar incubator that launched El Cuadrilátero Café in a ready-made space near the entrance of the Tigard Library in October of 2021.
Like the Café, Launch Pod supports fledgling restaurants by providing the space and equipment for low costs that will gradually increase over 18 to 24 months until the businesses are sturdy enough to find forever homes, opening the space for another pair of upstarts.
Brothers Alfredo and Joshua Carrion of West Coast Torta and Harvest Moon Experience’s Juliana Mosley beat 28 other hopefuls in a 5-month application process that challenged them to produce fully developed concepts.
“The selections were pretty rigorous,” said Community Development Director Kenny Asher. “They were based on marketing plans, financial forecasts, concept menus, completed consultations with our business partner Livelihood Northwest, and very importantly, a tasting that we conducted in the office because we needed to be sure we knew what we were putting out there.”
Both will continue working closely with mentors and coaches from Livelihood Northwest throughout their cart residencies.
“I’m so lucky to have this. It’s a pinch-me moment,” said Harvest Moon Experience owner Juliana Mosley. “I’m just embracing it all and making sure I listen and learn as much as possible from people in the community.”
She and the Carrions got a first peek at their twin kitchens, one with an orange exterior and the other bright green, in early January.
The city combined a $10,000 AARP Community Challenge Grant with American Rescue Plan funds to purchase the two $56,000 carts. Each is fully equipped with a class IV kitchen, meaning it contains everything West Coast Torta and Harvest Moon Experience need to crank out their menus as easily as they could in a brick-and-mortar location.
“This is all you need right here,” Alfredo Carrion said, excitedly checking out his new space, and already seeing churros sizzling in the deep frier.
He and Joshua, who live less than a mile from Universal Plaza, were already exploring the possibility of opening a food cart in town when they discovered Launch Pod.
Their menu centers on tortas – hot Mexican sandwiches stuffed with many of the same fillings that are traditionally wrapped in burritos or tacos – rice bowls, and house-made chips and salsas pulled from their childhood.
Both men, the sons of a chef father and a mother who loved to cook, grew up in the kitchen.
They’ll be in the orange truck cranking out “old-school recipes with a new school twist. Keeping the tradition but enhancing it in our own way,” Joshua Carrion said, while Mosley will be nearby in the green cart serving up “seasonal comfort food,” mocktails, and more than a dozen sangrias crafted from Oregon wines once her liquor license is in place.
“We have the best wines here,” Mosley said. “Why isn’t there more sangria?”
It’s a gap she hopes to fill with “fruity, fresh, and colorful” blends.
She began selling “bougie bites” out of two coolers at local farmer’s markets last summer with her sights set on settling into a cart within a year and has built a growing catering clientele in the months since.
Her charcuterie will anchor the menu in Harvest Moon Experience’s new cart, where Mosley also plans to grill Peanut Butter and Jelly and spotlight a rotating array of seasonal specials.
Down the line, Mosley and the Carrions hope to fulfill Pod Launch’s ultimate vision of becoming what Purdy called “a pipeline for more downtown restaurants” and expand into permanent spaces nearby.
For Mosely, that dream looks like a Sangria house featuring two dozen house blends and a walk-through, build-your-own charcuterie bar. For the Carrions, it might include a wood-fired pizza oven.
For now, all three are just excited to serve food in the Plaza from their new dream kitchens.
“It’s something that my dad always wanted to do, but he never got to. He always wanted to open his own little Mexican spot. He was a great cook, and he taught my mom to cook,” Alfredo Carrion said. “I believe this is a dream that we’re all living now. We can look back on it and say, ‘hey, we did it, Pops!’”