Jordan Rubin of Mr. Tuna makes a spicy crunchy shrimp wrap on his food truck on the Eastern Prom. The city is launching a pilot program to move the trucks off the roadway and into a parking lot on Cutter Street. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

For the last few years, Jordan Rubin and his staff at Mr. Tuna, a mobile sushi bar, have been setting up shop during the warmer months on Portland’s Eastern Promenade.

Business took off in the spring of 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and the food truck now makes up a significant portion of Rubin’s business, which also includes a brick-and-mortar location in the Public Market House.

“We’ve been here so long, it’s a crucial part of our business,” said Rubin, Mr. Tuna’s chef and owner. “We really depend on it.”

Rubin is one of several food truck operators worried about the future because they’ve built their business parking on the Eastern Prom roadway.

Starting June 15, trucks will no longer be able to park on the prom road during the summer months. Those trucks that are selected to be part of  a pilot program to address trash, safety and environmental concerns will be relocated to the middle parking lot on Cutter Street.

The city will hold a lottery Wednesday to select trucks for 10 spots in the new location. Fourteen applications have been submitted, including one from a pair of trucks seeking to share a spot.


“Everyone is really scared they’re going to lose their spot,” Rubin said.

Food trucks on the Eastern Prom – one of the city’s most popular destinations – have been the subject of debate for months. Until recently, city rules permitted trucks to park anywhere along the prom from Washington Avenue to Cutter Street, which stretches from the prom to East End Beach.

But concerns about issues such as pedestrian safety and trash led city staff last spring to propose different plans to better manage the trucks, including creating a seasonal food truck court on the Eastern Prom between Turner and Congress streets, and moving the trucks to a designated portion of the prom roadway between Turner and Quebec streets.

Interim City Manager Danielle West announced in April that the the city had chosen to use the middle Cutter Street lot – one of three parking lots on the street – starting in mid-June and to evaluate how it worked at the end of the season in mid-October.

Phan Vy in the Vy Banh Mi food truck on the Eastern Prom. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Asked Tuesday about food truck operators’ concerns about the lottery, city spokesperson Jessica Grondin stressed that the new program is a pilot and that the city isn’t charging a fee for a spot in the lot this season. “We will take feedback and analyze how this year works and make any changes if need be,” Grondin said.

Before the city announced its plan, staff gathered feedback from various sources, including two City Council committees, the Parks Commission and the public. A petition started last spring that gathered more than 230 signatures urged the city to go with the Cutter Street option.


Since then, another petition raising concerns about the lottery for spots on Cutter Street has gathered more than 4,300 signatures. It states that if the city is going to limit the number of trucks, it should not rely on a random lottery but should give trucks that have been on the prom for more than three years first dibs on spots.


Sara Meehl, who started the petition on, said she is worried that the lottery will push out food trucks that have built their business on the prom. Meehl said she worked on a food truck in college and has many food truck friends who are nervous about their future employment if their trucks don’t get spots.

“(The Eastern Prom) really is the most viable location for the food trucks and the local small business owners who have relied on that spot are really holding their breath waiting to see what will happen, should they not get a spot,” Meehl wrote in an email.

Tuesday was cold and drizzly at lunchtime, and Mr. Tuna was one of just three food trucks parked on the prom. Vy Phan, who owns Vy Banh Mi food truck, also has applied for a spot in the lot. She’s hoping the city will find a way to accommodate all 14 applicants so the food trucks aren’t pitted against one another.

“We don’t know where we’re going to go (if we don’t get a spot),” Phan said. “We used to go to breweries – but if you want to go to a brewery, you have to book it first, and now they’re already booked for the year. If we can’t get any spot there, we don’t know what we’ll do.”


Grondin said the city has looked at the possibility of adding additional food truck spots in the Cutter Street lot, but space is limited. “There are other uses of the space than just food trucks, so unfortunately we’re in a position of having to balance the use of that space,” she said.

She encouraged the truck owners to work together. “Unfortunately we’re just over that 10 cap, so if four don’t get it, maybe they can team up with another operator if that operator doesn’t plan to be there every day of the week,” Grondin said.

Customers place orders at Mr. Tuna parked on the Eastern Prom on Tuesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Not all the food truck operators vying for the spots are stressed about the lottery. Jared Edwin, owner of On a Roll, which serves sandwiches and rice bowls, said he doesn’t set up on the prom often because he travels with a truck and trailer and it’s hard to find enough space.


“I think it’s a fair compromise,” Edwin said of the pilot program. “Given the situation, I think it’s definitely kind of chaos up there in the summer when there’s a ton of trucks and buses and hundreds of people and people trying to park food trucks on the street. I understand why the city wanted to change it.”

But others who have had a longstanding presence on the prom are worried for their futures and because they don’t want to have to lay off staff. “It genuinely terrifies me,” Dylan Gardner, who owns Falafel Mafia with his brother Cameron, said of the possibility of not getting a spot in the lot.


For the past three years, Falafel Mafia has typically operated six to seven days a week on the prom, Gardner said. In the three years before that, it was on the prom, just less regularly. Last fall, the brothers, who also own Nura Hummus and Falafel Bar in Monument Square, bought a second food truck so they could be available for catering and events in addition to maintaining a presence on the prom.

“We were banking on the fact we wouldn’t be asked to leave or be excluded,” Gardner said. “I’m really scared.”


He understands the city’s need to better manage food trucks, but says there should have been more consideration for those who have put in the time and work on the prom. “We understand the need for fairness and that the city needs to be fair to everyone, but it just doesn’t seem fair to those who have always operated there,” Gardner said.

The Falafel Mafia truck on the prom employs about seven people and Gardner said he may have to lay off at least four if it doesn’t get a spot in the lot.

Rubin of Mr. Tuna says his truck typically employs six to seven people in addition to employees at the brick-and-mortar location whose work also supports the truck.

“What are these people going to do if we lose this location?” Rubin asked. “They’ve already planned their whole summer for being here. … That’s how they make a living. That’s how they pay their bills.”

He said he isn’t sure what will happen to the truck if Mr. Tuna isn’t selected for a spot in the lot.

“We might find something, but it’s not going to replace this,” Rubin said. “My staff don’t know what’s going on. They’re asking me every day, ‘Have you heard anything?'”

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