PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Matt Allen has worked at Expensify since 2016. Their global headquarters in downtown Portland is across the street from a decades-old food cart pod on Southwest 5th and Harvey Milk.
He and his colleagues had a daily view of the dwindling pod. About 6 months ago they had an idea on how to contribute to help make the neighborhood nicer for everyone.
“This has been the 5th Avenue food carts for 30 years, and about half of them had left, probably at least a bit more and we used to always eat here. So, we decided, ‘why don’t we just find out who owns this land. We’ll see if we get a lease on it.’ And sure enough, we got a 7-year lease with two 5-year extensions,” Allen said. “So, we’re planning for it to be around for a long time.”
Expensify is a financial company with no prior food experience. But Allen said they’re partnering with ChefStable to help reimagine the pod as the new Midtown Beer Garden.
Renovations of the site will include full utility connections for all vendors, onsite security — even when the site is closed — a large bar cart in the center and an entertainment stage.
“30 carts, beer cart in the middle, and we’re doing this record-slash-breakneck speed. We’re trying to open in 2 months,” he told KOIN 6 News. “We’re on an 8-week construction schedule, and we’re in Week 2 right now. So in July, we should be opening.”
Christian Lee, who has owned the food cart Korean Twist at the current site since 2008, told KOIN 6 News recently he’s grateful Expensify is committed to creating a brighter future for the site.
“Many cart owners here have felt uncertain about what the future holds,” Lee said. “We’re excited about the improvements that will be made for enhanced security with a built-in fence and giving customers a place to sit to enjoy their lunch.”
“Downtown right now there’s a lot of challenges and there’s a lot of stuff going on. But we all gotta remember COVID was what really started this and there was nothing anybody can do about that. Now we’re on the other side,” Allen said. “Now’s the time to be like, ‘Hey, it’s summertime. It’s Portland.’ Now’s the time to kick things off. Let’s give reasons for people to come back downtown.”
He said they’ve already received dozens of applications for vendors but continue to look for more diverse applicants.
Right now they are doing a $1000 referral bonus for carts that are accepted. Details are on their website, MidtownBeerGarden.com
“If we get 10 times the amount of people walking around our neighborhood,” said Allen, “things will get better.”