Sunday, November 15, 2015

Food Cart Project Part XXXIV: Service Counter and Exhaust Hood

More forward movement's been made on the cart. I got a string of lights mounted underneath the awning over the service window. I think this gives a nice inviting effect, and of course a little extra light won't hurt when it gets dark out (these days, around 5:00 pm):

I also stained and finished the service counter:

I used a pretty dark stain, sanded some of it off to get this interesting grain effect, then finished it with six coats of polyurethane. The combination of the finish and the dents, gouges and wear the wood had to begin with (an old doug fir 2x8, by the way, for those of you who keep track of such things) gives it a nice patina, I think:

I also got a lot of caulking done around the trim. I'm about halfway done with that. Most significantly, though, my exhaust hood and fan arrived this week. Those will get installed next weekend...

Definitely looking forward to having those in place. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Food Cart Project Part XXXIII: Exhaust Hood, Awning and Menu.

Last weekend I met with a guy called Dale Barron, who does exhaust hood installations for restaurants, to assess my cart and discuss helping me with installing a hood. A few days later, I ordered my hood and fan from a company called Ventilation Direct. It's basically a six foot wide version of this (minus the fire suppression system; a class B extinguisher should suffice, in the short term, anyway):

That's set to ship about a week and a half into November, so installation of that will probably happen in the second half of the month, or perhaps early December. After that comes the electrical work. In the meantime, there are lots of loose ends to be tied up. This weekend, one of those loose ends I attended to was building an awning and some steps for the service window:

The awning is mounted on hinges just above the window, and the supports are secured at the base of the window with linch pins:

I also worked on the chalkboard menu, which mounts in the window:

If you're thinking I didn't quite crop that photo tight enough to read what's on the menu, well, yeah, you're right. Don't want to give away too much this early in the game... But I've got the menu items pretty much nailed down at this point. The prices will be added to it once I've finished sorting out all of the food costing. Here's what that awning looks like when it's collapsed, by the way:

That'll be secured with a padlock eventually. The shelf underneath the window is a fir 2x8 I picked up at the Rebuilding Center. I'll be staining and varnishing that next weekend.

I also had a great talk this weekend with an old friend of mine who's a web developer. He's going to take what I designed for the Squarespace website I created, and mark up something a little more sophisticated with respect to search engine optimization, mobile device displays and the like. I'm looking forward to getting that rebuilt, because the Squarespace site, while attractive, doesn't support HTML text, which makes it difficult for Google, Bing, et al to find it; obviously, less than ideal.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Food Cart Project Part XXXII: Thoughts...

A good friend of mine from high school died yesterday. I hadn't seen her in years, but we'd stayed in touch sporadically through social media, and I'd remained close to her family over the years, particularly with her step-brother, Dan. He's one of my favorite people in this world, and a guy I still spend time with on a regular basis, even though we live in different states. Dan's step-sister Gretchen died far too young, a few years younger than I am now, and her passing has me thinking about my own life, and the crossroads I'm standing at now.

I'm more than a bit intimidated by what it is I'm about to do, and it's not lost on me that the idea of turning one's passion into a career is, even under the best of circumstances, arguably an exercise in foolish naiveté. But despite all common sense, I can't ignore the constant nagging pull of that passion, either. I find myself, mid-way through life, thinking a lot about food these days. I think about how it's defined my sensibilities. I think about how it's sustained my relationships. I think about how it's informed my opinions, and I think about how it's served as a context through which I've navigated my experiences over the years, and how it's enabled me to grow and investigate my own capacities. As I've come to regard food as a creative medium, I now see those abstract yet familiar objects, colorful and tactile, enticing or mundane, that we take for granted with every trip to the grocery store, as the foundation of a sort of language, one that becomes more native to me with each passing day, week, month and year.

I've learned a lot of things in the past year or so. I've learned how to strip rust from a flatbed trailer, and how to prime and paint the bare metal. I've learned how to replace axles and leaf springs. I've learned how to frame out a floor, four walls and a roof. I've learned how to install sheathing, insulation, FRP, siding, trim and sheet stainless. I've learned how to hang doors and windows. Flooring. Lighting. Counters. Sinks. Plumbing. Health department regulations... I've learned all of that. I've also learned about sourcing ingredients, food costing, layering flavors, designing recipes, service logistics, POS and accounting software... What I've really learned in all of this, though, is how much I don't know, and how much I have to learn.

What is it that leads us to abandon the path that those who loved us the most did their best to set us upon? What is it about that cliff we all inevitably encounter that prompts us to leap, despite everything that's conditioned us to the contrary? Why is it that desire and security have never been able to exist in the same place, and why can't all of this shit just be simple, for fuck's sake? And why don't any of us have any idea where any of this is heading? I have no answers to these questions, obviously, nobody does. But we all face them nevertheless, and we all do our best to answer them in our own way.

My best guess is a food cart... God help me.

Rest in peace, Gretchen.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Food Cart Project Part XXXI: More Plumbing!

I got back into the plumbing in a big way this weekend. The water heater arrived, and my first step was to get it mounted to the wall. It came with a template for placing the screws, so this was pretty easy:

I also picked up a faucet this weekend. No big fancy wall mounted hose or anything like that, just a simple faucet. Getting it all shored up behind the backsplash was a little bit of a production, as the sink is set into the counter rather than mounted directly to the wall, and the faucet's not really designed to be mounted directly to the backsplash, but I managed to get it sorted out:

After that was done, I moved the sinks and their counter out of the way, and got back to work on the cold line. I got that into the water heater, and ran the hot line out as well:

Here's what that looks like with the sinks back in place:

The lines aren't attached to the faucets yet. I may run flexible braided stainless lines to them instead of connecting them directly to the pex, which you see sticking upward. Still mulling that over. The last order of the weekend was to get the drain pipes in place. None of this is glued yet, it's just roughed in, and the piece going down to the floor is a stand in. Once I have the gray water tank mounted, I'll cut out a hole in the floor and run a longer length of pipe down into it. But this is more or less what it's going to look like:

So, next up is ordering an exhaust hood, getting that installed and then contracting an electrician to get this thing powered up.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Food Cart Project Part XXX: Refrigeration and Stainless.

Plumbing is still underway in the cart. I've been stalled due to having to sort out my water heater options. The one I'd ordered turned out to be a gas model, which I'm trying to avoid. Rick over at Curtis Trailers was very cool about this, as it's an item he can put into his floor stock and move fairly quickly. Figuring out which electric model to go with required I do a little snooping around to see what sort of electrical service is typical for food cart pods around town, and it turns out that 200 amp service is pretty much the norm, or at least not uncommon. This is good news, because on demand electric water heaters are power hogs, and this operation is already pretty electricity intensive, with the induction burners, deep fryers and rice cookers. 200 amps should be plenty of power, though. I ended up ordering an 11kW EcoSmart water heater, which should arrive this week, and I'll get back to the plumbing next weekend.

In the meantime, I've been working on other tasks, the first being refrigeration. I picked up this 7 cubic foot merchandising fridge last weekend from Smitty's Vending Services. And yes, it is actually run by a guy called Smitty. This is not a huge refrigerator by any means, but my Cambros fit in there pretty nicely, and I think it should serve my purposes pretty well as long as I'm judicious in packing it:

I bought some sheet stainless for the cooking wall, and installed it over the backer board this weekend. So, there are no longer any unfinished walls in the cart. That's kind of a milestone. You'll also notice that I swapped out the formica counters I'd built for a couple of stainless prep tables. I'm pretty sure the Multnomah County Environmental Health Department will prefer this set up:

Those tables have bottom shelves which will house the immersion circulator, an extra rice cooker and the ice cream maker. At some point, I might squeeze in a countertop convection oven down there as well, but here's how it stands at present:

I also had a conversation on the phone this weekend with a guy called Dale Barron, who does a lot of work installing stainless and exhaust hoods around town. I was referred to him by the guys over at the Oregon Deli Company on Mississippi Avenue, where he'd done a particularly impressive installation. He was much more encouraging than the last guy I talked to about hoods, and he's open to the idea of helping me install it. We'll be setting up a time next weekend to have him come take a look at the cart and devise a strategy. I'm looking forward to that, and I imagine he'll have a recommendation or two for electricians. Much forward movement; stay tuned!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Food Cart Project Part XXIX: Shelving!

I was hoping to continue with the plumbing this weekend, but my tankless water heater has yet to arrive, and I'm kind of stuck from going any further until I have that, so I spent the past few days dialing in the shelving. What I'd originally put up was pretty flimsy plywood, which was in place as a stopgap because I had a bunch of leftover material. I replaced that with 1/2" MDF, and while I was at it I decided to expand it a bit. I imagine the Multnomah County Health Department will be more comfortable with this than the barely painted, rough plywood. Here are a couple shots of that:

My cousin Barry's wife Shellane had an audition in town, for a commercial for Haggen Supermarkets, so they came down from Seattle with the kids. We had brunch across the street at Broder Nord, and they had a look through the cart. Barry and Shellane ran a bar in Queen Anne back in the day, and now have a bottle shop up in Lake City; it's always good to have someone with some experience in the food service industry take a walk through and not find anything too out of whack. And of course, it was great to see these guys...

So, with any luck, I'll have some more plumbing to show off next weekend. For now, I'm happy with the shelves.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Food Cart Project Part XXVIII: Plumbing Begins.

Having picked up the sinks and first round of supplies last weekend, I was able to jump into the plumbing side of things over the last few days. The first step was to install the water pump to the wall:

Next was to run the cold line from the fresh water tank to the pump:

And then to continue it from the pump to the T-connections which will lead to the cold faucets on the ware and hand sinks:

Here's how all of that looks from underneath, with the sinks and their counter back in place (if you look closely at the fresh water tank, you can see the "cage" I built for it out of 2x4s, which I then painted white; this is to help the tank keep its shape when full):

You might have noticed that there isn't any copper anywhere to be seen. I used what's known as "pex," which stands for cross-linked polyethylene. It's pretty much standard nowadays in mobile, as well as residential, plumbing applications. The connections basically screw on to the pex, and create a seal (other connection types include using copper compression rings, and expanding the tubing with a plastic "shape memory" collar that shrinks back to its original size).

After all of that was in place, I installed the door for the water:

Here's what that looks like from inside the cart:

The large hole will be connected to the fresh water tank's inlet with about 1-1/2" esophageal tubing, while the smaller hole will be connected to the tank's air vent with 1/2" tubing (the door itself, of course, not being air-tight). A piece of plywood, painted white and with a couple of holes cut out for the tubing, will finish it up nicely, and I'll get some of the insulation packed back in there.

Before I can go any further, of course, I'll need the tankless water heater and the gray water tank. Those are on order and should arrive sometime this week. So, by the end of next weekend, I should have some more plumbing in place for you to check out...