A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Food carts coming near I-5 off-ramp

Written August 26th, 2023 by Hasso Hering

The old restaurant sign is still there. Maybe the food cart pod can reuse it.

A reader noticed construction activity right next to the southbound Albany freeway off-ramp that feeds into Airport Road.

“Building next to Tom Tom Deli,” she emailed me. “Did I miss something? They cut down trees and put in palm trees.”

Palm trees? Yes indeed, as I confirmed when I rode the bike out that way on Thursday.

Actually, I’m not sure they are really palms or just some approximation intended to fit in with our summertime drought.

Either way, the plants decorate the 0.8-acre site of the former Yaquina Bay restaurant, a nice place before it closed. Then it sat empty for years and was eventually torn down.

What’s now going in at 325 Airport Road is a pod for mobile food carts. Plans on file with the city call it “Charli’s on I-5.”

The original site plan approved by the city was a pod with two carts. On Aug. 8 the Albany planning staff approved a modification of the original plan.

The latest version adds four MFUs — that’s “mobile food units” — to the original two for a total of six, plus a mobile “tap room” selling beer and wine.

One of the food carts is already there. It’s called Thai Express, and the approved site plan shows it. The other five units being planned are not idenfitied on the drawings approved by the city.

The food carts are to be placed around the outside of the site, with seating in the center. There will also be a restroom.

The property is owned by a limited liability corporation with members in Salem and Albany. The applicant for the food cart operation is an LLC whose principals are in Albany and Portland.

There’s no word on when the other carts will be ready to join Thai Express. Judging from the stage of construction on the site, it may be weeks or months. (hh)

Thai Express (background) was the only food cart there on Aug. 24, 2023.

16 responses to “Food carts coming near I-5 off-ramp”

  1. Scott Bruslind says:

    Yaquina Bay was a nice place- good value, nice atmosphere. When Linda and I moved up here from Tucson, I thought Albany might actually be somewhere near the ocean, because of the Yaquina Bay. Still looking for that elusive beach-front, somewhere close to the Front St. Bar&Grill, I imagine.

  2. Elaine Gay says:

    Awesome idea to get the food trucks in one place and not driving around the city trying to find one that you want!

  3. Tracy Andrus says:

    There is a similar one in north Albany the red barn I think

    • Richard says:

      You are correct! Close to the corner of North Albany Rd., and Hickory Street. Behind the Corvallis Clinic building.

  4. Debra nollen says:

    Isn’t the red barn In N. Albany the same thing?

  5. DeeDee Biegel says:

    The one in North Albany is The Barn. It has about 8 trucks all the time and sells beer and wine in the main building. They have lots and lots of seating. The also have live music regularly but not every night.
    There’s also a FMU’s in a setting in South Salem on Commercial St that has good food too!

    • Chris says:

      South Salem is called Beehive, and there is also a group of MFT in North Salem called the Yard. Both have great food. Yard has more variety.

  6. Randall Harris says:

    Food trucks are fast-food with a higher risk of unhelathy kitchen practices. In my opinion, we have too many fast-food restaurants and not enough sit-down restaurants.

    I also like fast-food as much as the next guy, but it would be nice to have a greater, choice of nice sit-down restaurants, even if they are the better known chain restaurants.

    • Conner says:

      The risk of healthy or unhealthy practices in kitchens is the same all over. I think we assume brick-and-mortar restaurants have “healthier” practices simply because of the old style of MFUs… the “roach coaches.” Mobile units today, especially in Oregon, are heavily regulated and frequently inspected by OHA inspectors throughout the state.
      Also, a lot of these mobile units become brick-and-mortar restaurants as they gain more popularity and capital to invest in more growth. There are mobile units putting out higher quality foods than most brick-and-mortars in Oregon, especially. These are perfect testing grounds for new cuisine, new flavors, new cultures… and new restaurants. Very few in Oregon are actually “fast food” and very few of them even serve fast food type foods like burgers and such. The range of flavors and options is only really limited by how far you are willing to drive to get to the mobile unit you want to try. ;) I assure you though… they are DEFINITELY worth the try.

      Consider this… when was the last time you could SEE the kitchen space in a brick-and-mortar well enough to determine their kitchen practices and cleanliness? You can walk right up to a mobile unit, look inside, and see the ENTIRE kitchen area and judge its suitability. I’m going to guess most of the mobile units have cleaner kitchens these days.

    • Elizabeth says:

      In Lebanon we built an area for food carts and it is great. Plenty of space to sit. The site is always filled with families. Food is quality.

  7. George says:

    I don’t think we need more food carts because there aren’t any inspections buy the health department or fire inspectors.

    • Conner says:

      Hey George – that’s not at all true. Mobile Food Units actually have EXTENSIVE health code and fire codes and are inspected regularly for both. The application process and review process before they even open is incredibly thorough and the requirements for operation are quite lengthy. The Oregon Health Authority takes the safety of the public when it comes to mobile units very seriously. A new Mobile Food Unit Guidelines for Operation was just put out and went into effect this year, actually. You can find it online with a simple Google search of “Oregon Mobile Food Unit Operation Guidelines.” It refers heavily to the Food Safety Code and MFUs are required to operate within these and numerous other guidelines.

  8. Bill Kapaun says:

    Just Google “oregon food cart laws” and you’ll come up with a pdf. 2nd paragraph of Chapter 1 states-

    “A license is required. Before a Mobile Food Unit is licensed, it must go through a plan review with the local Environmental Health Department. Prior to licensing, there may be other agencies from which you will be required to obtain approvals. These include, but are not limited to planning (zoning), Fire Marshall, and other city or county authorities. Oregon law requires that all food service activities open to the public be licensed PRIOR to operation.”

  9. Wendy Marshall says:

    We also have a food cart pod in Lebanon, operated by Tallman Brewery. I like these options, but agree with George about needing more decent ‘sit down’ restaurants. Especially Lebanon, which seems to be the fast food capitol.

  10. CHEZZ says:

    Yes, the food carts do have County health inspections and are licensed. The cost of having a brick and mortar store front adds alot of expenses to a restaurant. The food trucks are viable and an excellent way to serve great food while not taking on the high cost of a lease, the type of insurance they require, lights, number of employees, heat, etc. All of the food trucks and pods are clean with outdoor seating, under umbrellas, patio roofs, etc. I enjoy eating at the pods while also having the option to take it home. Check it out!


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