Jordan Rubin, owner of the Mr. Tuna food truck, said his business is down 40 percent from last year after being forced to park his truck on Cutter Street instead of along the Eastern Prom. Credit: CBS 13

PORTLAND, Maine — City officials are currently seeking input from food truck operators, and the general eating public, as it tries to come up with a 2023 summer parking policy to make everyone happy at its popular Eastern Prom destination.

The effort comes after a fraught outdoor food season that saw miffed vendors forced to move their operations into a parking lot down the hill. The vendors said the relocation hurt their businesses. City officials said the parking shift was needed to maintain safety along the prom and to protect the park.

The food fight started in June when Portland held a lottery to pick trucks for 10 weekend parking spaces along the Eastern Prom. At least five trucks were out in the cold and resulted in a protest led by Jordan Rubin, whose Mr. Tuna truck was not chosen.

“It’s going to be very difficult. We’ve expanded three times over the last two years to keep up with the demand for the prom, so this place without the prom is not the same business,” Rubin told CBS 13 at the time.

City officials said limiting the number of trucks was needed because, while the sense of community and fun was positive, upward of 20 trucks parked along the prom every weekend resulted in excessive trash, root compaction of park trees and turf, too much engine idling and generator use, loss of parking, noise, and other quality-of-life issues.

Interim City Manager Danielle West tried to get those trucks left out of the Eastern Prom lottery to consider other parking spots around Portland.

“We have many other locations available in the city, the West End, Congress Square Park. There are some spots also located in Deering Oaks, and we have spots available in a couple other locations as well,” West said.

But vendors stuck together in opposing the lottery, and the city gave in, setting up a free, alternative parking location for 14 trucks, down the hill, closer to the water, in a paved lot on Cutter Street.

The compromise still left some vendors unhappy.

“It doesn’t touch what we would have done on the top road as far as ease of accessibility for loading in and out, having a clear cut sidewalk area for patrons to walk on,” Dylan Gardner of the Falafel Mafia food truck told CBS 13 on the first day of the new arrangement.

But the Cutter Street lot remained the food trucks’ only East End option all season. The ordinance keeping them there expires Nov. 15.

In September, Rubin told CBS 13 his 2022 Mr. Tuna food truck sales were down 40 percent from last year.

“It’s been tough,” Rubin said. “The first month was awful. We saw a little bit of an uptick in August, but compared to the year before, a significant drop.”

Now, the city is in the process of reviewing feedback it has received from vendors over the summer. It’s also seeking additional feedback from other community members through an online survey.

The public survey is open through 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14.

Once city staffers review all collected data, they will share a proposed plan for a 2023 Eastern Prom food truck program with Portland City Council committees and the Parks Commission.

Following those meetings, the city manager will release a final plan.

 

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.