Friday, May 30, 2014

Food Cart Project Part VIII: Social Media, Equipment Testing

Last weekend, I had a meeting with a chap called Steven Shomler, who recently wrote an excellent book about the Portland food cart scene. Steven also runs a website called Portland Food Cart Adventures. He has a very generous policy of allowing anybody seriously thinking about opening a food cart to bend his ear for a little while, provided they're willing to buy him a cup of coffee or a pint of beer. So, I was able to get a lot of questions answered and take in some great advice. One point he stressed was the importance of getting the brand and social media presence in place, earlier rather than later. I'd already done a fair amount of the branding (having a background in graphic design really helps here), but I hadn't intended on getting the concept out to the public so soon, so that's what I worked on through the rest of the weekend and since. I now have the Twitter:

And the Facebook:

I also set up an Instagram account, as well as the website, which I put together through Squarespace. I don't have a link for that yet, as I seem to be having some trouble getting the domain to populate over from GoDaddy, but here's a shot of the home page:

So, most of that is in place. And obviously, the concept is now public. Burmese food, doing Burmese food (or a somewhat Westernized, PDX take on it, at any rate; I'm not making any claims at authenticity). This weekend, I gave a couple pieces of equipment I'll be using a test run. Chicken, meet my new convection oven. You two are gonna have so much fun together...

Very, very important. I'm not sure what this thing could be immersed in, aside from a bathtub or  a swimming pool, but very, very important nevertheless:

Trust me, they said. Then they trussed me:

The chicken fits in the oven very nicely. Shouldn't be too much trouble cooking two at a time:

And, here's the finished product. I brined the chicken overnight, but apart from that I didn't really season it at all. Just dried it off a bit, and threw it right in. And it was fantastic.

I also gave the pressure cooker its inaugural run. Stock takes about a quarter of the time in one of these.

I tossed in the bones from just the one chicken, six quarts of water, and some aromatic vegetables and herbs (in this case, I want a Southeast Asian flavor profile, so I went with a couple of shallots, along with some lemongrass, green onion, and parsley that I'd put in the freezer not long ago. If you make stock, or plan on starting, always remember to save those veggie scraps and put 'em in the freezer):

Of course, you'll want to strain that and get it into an ice bath once it's done:

The stock turned out really well. I was a little concerned that one chicken's worth of bones wouldn't be enough, but the nice thing about the pressure cooker is that it really extracts the flavor and collagen from the bones. The yield ended up being just a little over five and a half quarts. Not bad. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Food Cart Project Part VII: How to Build a Floor

First, frame it out with 2x4s. You'll usually see floors built with 2x6s, which I don't think is necessary for this application, as the floor will sit on a fairly strong metal frame to begin with; also, weight's a consideration here. This was all put together with a compressed air powered framing nailer, which made for quick work (that being said, if the pressure in the compressor tank gets a bit low, you might have the odd nail that doesn't get sent in all the way; it's useful to have a hammer on hand in such a case, or a pry bar in case you have to re-do it). And remember, always measure twice, cut and nail once!

Once the framing's done, lay out the sheathing, in this case 3/4" subfloor OSB. Line it up with at least one corner and two sides, snap a chalk line where it needs to be trimmed, and move it a bit so you can get the saw through it. A good circular saw is the tool for this.

Once the subflooring's trimmed, evened up and in place, you'll want to do a couple more things before securing it to the 2x4s. First, make sure the framing is square by measuring both pairs of opposite corners. If the measurements aren't the same, you don't have a perfectly "square" rectangle. You can fix this by tapping the corners a bit with a mallet until the measurements even up and it comes into square. Then, you'll want to snap some more chalk lines, even with the joists, which serve as guides to where to put in your nails.

And voila, you have a floor! And, a shit ton of sawdust to clean up...

I leaned it up and out of the way to make room for the next phase of the project: the walls! I'll start on those once the windows I ordered arrive (as I think of it, I'm gonna need to pick up a door as well).

Burke's getting to spend a lot of time at Civilian as I work on all of this. Here you can see him getting used to the space:

All of this woodworking requires a wood shop, of course. My lease at Civilian includes the basic shop package, which gets me access to the table saw and the chop saw. There's also a router, jointer/planer and lathe, none of which I'm likely to need. Everything is hooked up to a dust collection system; it's a pretty slick operation.

Here's a nice shot of the Fremont Bridge, and one of the trains that regularly rumble on by (you gotta like trains to work in this place):

Friday, May 2, 2014

Food Cart Project Part VI: The Trailer Arrives at Civilian Studios!

We've had a run of nice weather this week, so I used it as an opportunity to spend my afternoons before work removing surface rust from the trailer, as well as priming and painting. It's remarkable the difference a little primer makes. Here you can see the trailer about halfway through the priming process:

And here it is with a full coat of paint. By "full coat of paint," do I mean I managed to cover every square inch of the thing? Well, no. But I'd say I got it to somewhere around 95%. I'm happy with that.

This afternoon, I once again enlisted the help of my neighbor Nichol and her vintage Chevy pickup, and finally moved the trailer into its garage bay at Civilian Studios:

My lease at Civilian is active as of yesterday, which means that every minute of this project is now costing me money. So it's time to bust ass. Here's another shot of the former "Cow" in its bay:

Civilian is an interesting operation. It's in what used to be a wine distributor's warehouse, and the space has been built out into 40 or so individual studio spaces. It's owned and managed by the folks who live directly above me in my apartment building, a furniture maker and a jewelry maker. Here are a couple shots of the studios in the back section of the building:

That old Pepsi machine down there, btw... Yeah, there's kinda, like, beer in it. Y'know, this being Portland and all. $1.25 gets you a can of either PBR or Tecate. There's also a little patio area out back of that part of the building, which Nichol is in charge of. She's got some terraced gardening going on:

From the patio/garden, you can see the building that Broder Nord is in. It previously housed the Gotham Tavern. If you know anything about the spectacular collapse of the Gotham/Clarklewis/Ripe empire, you can probably imagine the drama that's taken place in that building. That grassy hill area on the left, btw, will eventually be terraced as well, and will need to be composted for three years for the sake of soil remediation before it can be planted.

There's also a hammock, as well as a basketball hoop, for games of Horse when folks need a break from their work. And the string of lights makes for a nice evening hangout.

I know now why the caged scooter sings...

So, the next step in this project is to order up some dimensional lumber, OSB and fiberglass reinforced plastic from the lumberyard, and start framing out the floor, walls and roof. Getting the trailer into the space today was a bit of a milestone, and I'm really looking forward to getting into what will undoubtedly be the most involved phase of this project thus far... Good stuff!