Blogs

  • 18 May 2018 by Erik Wolf

    For as long as I can remember, people have identified specific foods and drinks with certain places, pretty much everywhere around the world. When you say Belgium, you think of chocolate and beer; Italy, pasta and Parmesan cheese; Sweden, chocolate and vodka; and San Francisco, sourdough bread and wine. In Portland, we’re known for our beer, wine and coffee, but also our food cart culture which, sadly, is disappearing in the name of “progress”. I’ll get to that shortly.

    San Francisco’s famed sourdough bread

    Food manufacturing takes place in most countries, and we get to associate specific brands with specific places. Think Marmite and the UK, or Fonterra with New Zealand. Along the streets of the world’s capitals, it is easy to find reminders of familiar prepared food and beverage brands. Some streets are laden with foodservice establishments like Starbucks, KFC and Costa Coffee. Other streets are rife with advertisements for popular food and beverage brands such as Nestle’s Milo, Magnum ice cream bars or the ubiquitous Coca-Cola. Many of us grew up with these brands and even love them.

    While these food and beverage brands are part of our lives, we still hold a dear place in our hearts for the home-cooked meals served by our families. An Indian boy might cherish memories of the first biryani served in his home, while an American girl might remember most a hot dog with all the fixings, perhaps served at a summer holiday event. Regardless of the food, the family or the culture, we all have food and beverage memories that we cherish and revere as inherent and even authentic representations of our own food cultures. And every time we see a rendition of mom’s famous meatloaf or grandma’s pad thai for sale in the ready-made meal counters of our neighborhood grocery stores or fast-food chains, we cannot help but feel that a part of our history, however, small, has been marginalized and is on its way to the Graveyard of Culture. Our lives have become so fast, and our responsibilities so great, that it’s hard to argue with a delicious hot meal that can be purchased and in minutes, brought home and served to a hungry family.

    Just as we’re losing our food cultures, bit by bit all around the world, part of our local food culture in Portland, Oregon (USA) is disappearing as well. While food carts (known as food trucks everywhere else in the world), have been around in Portland since the 1990s, they really took off here in the late 2000’s. At one point, Portland allegedly was home to almost 700 different food carts strewn throughout the city. While hamburgers, Mexican and Thai options were abundant, every cuisine imaginable was available including Egyptian, Czech, Scottish and Georgian. The famous blocks of 10th and Alder Streets in downtown Portland serve as the epicenter of Portland’s food cart culture.

    A group of carts is called a “pod” and cart pods were at one time found all around Portland. By all accounts, no visit to Portland would be complete without a stop for a meal at one or more of our famous food carts. Some options like Nong’s Khao Man Gai have even achieved iconic status and are sought-after destinations themselves by visitors to this upper left corner of America. Just google pictures of “Portland food” and you’ll see the (in)famous Voodoo Donuts and Stumptown Coffee, as well as thousands upon thousands of pictures and videos of Portland’s food cart culture. It’s safe to say that Portland’s food carts collectively have become one of the city’s predominant features of its food culture, and something that visitors seek out with great anticipation.

    Within 10 years, Portland’s food carts became a major attraction in the City of Portland. Our food carts sometimes showcase the quirkiness of the city as portrayed in the Portlandia television series. An example of our quirkiness can be found at the Grilled Cheese Grill, which operates one of its locations out of a double decker London bus. Other carts served as stepping stones to brick and mortar establishments, such as the PDX Sliders operation. Still other carts served as culinary proving grounds, like for Chef Rick Gencarelli, who founded a food cart in 2010 and later went on to open the highly acclaimed Lardo and Grassa local restaurants.

    All that remains of the food cart pod on North Mississippi Street in Portland (left).

    Then in 2016, something serious began to happen. The cart pods were being forced to shut down. Reasons varied, but the one floated most often is that the land was being sold to a developer to erect a new apartment building. The spaces that housed the cart pods had been mostly empty parking lots.

     

    SE 28th & Belmont Streets, until recently, home to Portland’s best food cart pod

    Before Portland became the trendy destination that it is today, owners of parking lots could get income from renting out small spaces to these carts, which in turn gave rise to pods of food carts all around the city. Every quadrant of the city had at least two major food cart pods. Portland became like a Disneyland for foodies, and good food could be found literally on almost every corner. Recent major pod closures include the lot on North Mississippi Street and another on Southeast Belmont Street (see pictures of all that remains, note construction work on the right side of the lower image). The Belmont pod was probably the nicest in the city, with a covered seating area, plants and heating lamps. Now it’s gone. Some carts find new homes, while other simply close. Bit by pit, the food carts, and really our food cultures, are eroding before our eyes.

    Now the largest food cart pod of all, at 10th and Alder Streets in downtown Portland is threatened with closure, as once again, developers want the space. Instead of apartments, however, developers want to erect another office building. It is argued that a 20 to 30 story office building would make a much greater contribution to the city’s economy than do the 40 or so food carts it would displace.

    Progress is inevitable. Rather than destroying the epicenter of Portland’s food culture, what if there were a way to honor and preserve Portland’s food culture, while still allowing for progress in the form of new buildings? Some of the new smaller apartment buildings have mixed use space on the ground floor. However, there is rarely space for more than a couple of eateries, and the architecture/design usually leaves something to be desired. Think Ikea meets excellent local food, and at much higher rents, which raises the prices of the food served, and gives fuel to quiet scoffing that our cuisine is becoming gentrified and even unattainable by the everyday person. If you beg to differ, would you pay US$15 for a sandwich from a food cart served in aluminum foil in a paper bag with plastic silverware and no place to sit and eat? As much as I love our food carts, I’d rather eat in a restaurant with table service for the same price. That said, there are plenty of cheaper options.

    The vibrant food cart scene at the 10th and Alder Streets food cart pod in downtown Portland, Oregon, USA.

    If progress is indeed inevitable, what could be a win-win-win solution for all stakeholders, especially for the hallowed blocks around 10th and Alder Streets? Architects and city planners could design a building with a ground floor with outward facing windows around the periphery that accommodate the next iteration of “food carts”. It would certainly be a non-traditional office building, but it would preserve an important part of our culinary culture. It’s a win for city developers, who get their new building. It’s a win for customers & travelers because their favorite carts aren’t going away. And it’s a win for the businesses, because they’ll still have space to conduct business. Sequestering the carts in a food trough in the new building’s basement would not have anywhere near the same effect. In fact, such an easier solution would mimic the food courts of malls across the United States. The food carts in general, and especially the pod at 10th and Alder Streets, motivate travelers to come to Portland and enjoy our lifestyle, spending quite a bit of money in the process. Eateries in a building basement are no motivation for travelers to visit any city, and certainly nothing to be proud of. Portland has long prided itself on its creativity. It needs a creative solution to new urban construction.

    This is just what is happening in our home base, Portland. Have you noticed the disintegration of your own local food culture? Every time a new strip mall opens with prominent national chains at the ready, it’s one more shot across the bow of the locally owned food and beverage businesses. There is room for both locally-owned and multinational businesses to thrive, but it’s really the local businesses that need our support.

    What makes up your local food culture? Maybe it’s an old grain mill or brewery in a stone building that has seen better times? It could be a restaurant in an old castle or a cooking school in an old country home. Whatever makes up your area’s food and beverage products and experiences, and the stories you tell about them, we need to recognize and support our local food cultures, all around the world.

     

    Recently I was in Belize, where the big multinationals still largely had not arrived. The locals are rightfully concerned about what will happen when they do. Thanks to ambassadors like Chef Sean Kuylen (pictured left), steps are being taken right now to preserve and promote the Belizean food culture. Without such efforts, unique foods and beverage products and experiences will cease to be a major reason to travel that they are today.

  • 24 Sep 2017 by Erik Wolf

    After a long day of stunning sights, unusual sounds, interesting smells, and at least 100 certainly never-before snapped pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, we ended up for a late lunch at a café just off the Corso Italia, in Pisa. I ordered Pici Cacio e Pepe, a pasta dish renowned throughout Tuscany. I swirled the creamy, peppery goodness around my fork and placed the parcel in my salivating mouth. I could hardly wait. Heaven. It tasted just like I imagined. The fat pasta was unique to us, meaning that we probably couldn’t find it at home, so we bought some to take back with us. Once home, we replicated the dish as best we could, using an authentic Italian recipe and the Italian pasta. It just didn’t taste the same. We had taken such pain to ensure authentic replication, yet the taste didn’t come close to what we remembered. We wondered why, and then we realized, it’s because the sense of place was missing.

    I thought back to other similar situations I experienced with food and drink. The same thing happened with a bottle of Megas Oenos wine that we enjoyed at a lovely outdoor restaurant on the Greek island of Mykonos. I found the same wine on a menu at a restaurant in New York City. We weren’t impressed. The same thing with fresh strawberry juice blended at a juice stand on the streets of Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro. The version we made at home didn’t begin to taste like its Brazilian cousin.

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    The notion of celebrating a sense of place through local food and drink was first discussed in 2001 in a white paper published by Erik Wolf, who later founded the World Food Travel Association (WFTA). The WFTA’s mission is to create economic opportunities where food and beverage meet travel and hospitality. Learn more about food tourism and what it can do for you at www.WhatIsFoodTourism.org. Be sure to attend the food tourism session at World Travel Market, taking place on Tuesday, 7 November, 10:30 - 12:30 in Platinum Suite 3.

  • 20 Mar 2017 by Erik Wolf

    The bottom line is that large hotel corporations are in a state of self-preservation. They’re like an animal threatened in the wild. They may be building more hotels because they are really needed, or they may actually be trying to continually innovate with new properties in order to stay relevant. The peer to peer trend will continue to give standalone hotels a run for their money for the foreseeable future.

    My usual home (hotel) away from home in London had finally priced itself out of my reach. I just cannot justify the prices being charged by many hotels these days. Want wifi, laundry or a bottled water in your room? Your bill can grow quite large rather quickly. Hotel rates seem to have skyrocketed in the past 10 years, far ahead of any logical explanation due to inflation. I suppose high hotel rates are paying for all the new hotel construction. But do we need that many new hotels?

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    Photo Credit: The Sun UK

  • 20 Mar 2017 by Erik Wolf

    Think about any “tourist trap” restaurant. Now that you’ve got that image in your mind’s eye, it’s probably not far from a major monument or attraction, right? The menu is in multiple languages, possibly even with photos, high prices, rude waiters and mediocre food? We’ve all had that experience, and it’s not exactly something to write home about. As hospitality industry professionals, perhaps we tend to notice more these kinds of subpar experiences. While some hospitality professionals have superhuman powers that enable them to see around corners and intuit which culinary experiences will be fantastic or poor, most of us are not so lucky. It’s the same with visitors to your destination or business. Unfortunately, when visitors choose a restaurant, a destination, or a culinary activity, their knowledge of their proposed experience is limited to what they have heard or read.

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  • 02 Mar 2017 by Erik Wolf

    Kauai’s food & beverage scene, from the visitor’s perspective.

    Circumstances had us jetting off to the garden isle of Kauai (Hawaii) this month, not a bad place to be after finishing up a month of record cold, snow and ice in Portland (Oregon, USA). And writing this on the way back, we’ve got more cold and rain ahead. You can imagine that we truly appreciated the weather on Kauai.

    Kauai is popular, but it isn’t the most popular of the Hawaiian Islands. Still, it’s arguably the most beautiful of the archipelago. Dramatic lush volcanic landscapes, tropical flora and fauna, postcard perfect beaches, waterfalls at every turn. Yes, you can find these on the other Hawaiian islands, but they abound on Kauai.

    In our pre-trip research, we discovered that coffee grows on the island, and we assumed there would be fresh seafood and of course pineapple. We had also heard that Spam was popular in Hawaii. Apart from some images of the landscapes, we literally had no idea what to expect. Pre-trip food and beverage information about Kauai exists only in bits and pieces for hungry food travelers. In advance of our arrival, we found information about restaurants at our hotel, hotel amenities and other attractions on the island. We definitely got the impression that Kauai was not marketing itself as a destination for food and beverage lovers.

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  • 04 Feb 2017 by Erik Wolf

    Here are 5 Tips You Can Use to Get Ready for the Future

    Looking into the crystal ball to predict the future is harder than ever these days. The world’s tourism landscape has changed. Cities like Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam are oversold and new visitors to these destinations complain about the crowds, traffic and high prices. Europe is in disarray now, with hundreds of thousands of immigrants altering European cultures, perhaps forever. Brexit puts the UK in a category all its own, although a weak pound may bode well for now for inbound tourism there. A super strong U.S. dollar and a xenophobic tourism strategy don’t bode well for inbound travelers into the USA anytime soon. This will likely mean that the USA’s tourism growth, at least in the short term, will have to come more from domestic travelers. China’s overheated economy is cooling off and while the Chinese are still traveling, right now they’re not spending like they used to.

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  • 01 Dec 2016 by Erik Wolf

    A group of 200 industry food tourism industry leaders met last April at the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian, Spain at a conference co-hosted by the United Nation (UN) World Tourism Organization. The purpose of the conference was to define food tourism and debate the value and future of the industry. The result? The consensus is that food and drink tourism is here to stay. Why? Economic impact is certainly important, but perhaps moreso is the preservation and promotion of our food culture.

    Food tourism is all the rage. The topic is found on the agenda of all kinds of conferences around the world. Many destinations now include food and drink in their marketing mix.

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  • 21 Nov 2016 by Erik Wolf

    And Why It Might Be Worth Your Time & Money to Do So

    As customers, why do we continue to spend money with companies that create constant hardships for us? I never used to name company names, but as a “person of influence” in the travel industry, it’s time that I start wielding that influence. So here it goes.

    I transferred my “loyalty” to American Airlines this year from another carrier. The plan was to test out American to see if it would be a suitable company for me to invest my time, money and loyalty. So in a way, last January began a year-long interview process to see if the company was up to snuff to earn my business. After just 9 months, I had already concluded that aligning with this airline would be a serious mistake. Still, I was committed on several flights through November. So here I sit in O’Hare on an 10-hour layover (it was supposed to be a 6-hour layover but my flight was delayed 4 hours). That’s fine. I’m just biding my time thinking about the sea change that needs to happen in the travel industry. And I’m certainly doing my share to help bring about change.

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  • 15 Oct 2016 by Erik Wolf

    Why an Overhaul of Online Reviews is Desperately Needed

     

    There is no denying that review websites are part of our travel planning process today. No matter whether travelers use Trip Advisor for hotels and attractions, Yelp for restaurants, or any of a number of other online resources for everything in-between. It is a documented fact that travelers consult online review websites for an indication whether something would be worth the time and cost. Sadly, these websites give travelers and other consumers only part of the picture, and travelers are many times making their important holiday decisions based on partial facts, misleading opinions and even outright lies. You’ve probably noticed some of these inconsistencies yourself, reading how someone raved about a restaurant that you absolutely despised. How did the review industry get to this place? Let’s look at some of the more common review systems and the current problems they face. Then we’ll present various solutions to improve the overall critiquing process, especially for food and beverage tourism.

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  • 01 Sep 2016 by Erik Wolf

    And Why We Need to Own our own Food Future

    The summer shortly after I had turned 9 years old, I was visiting my grandparents. One day, my grandmother took me into her kitchen to teach me how to make cookies. I still remember they were made with flour, eggs, real peanut butter and real sugar sprinkled on top, complete with the pressed fork marks. The year was 1975.

    Fast forward to today. If you want cookies, you’ll either buy packaged ones in a grocery store or you might visit a baker. The number of people cooking at home seems to be smaller than ever. Many of us have already lost the know-how and even will to cook for ourselves. When I lived in New York City, I cooked for myself maybe 10 times in 6 years. My friends in London also rarely cook at home. My friends in Singapore eat out constantly because it’s fast, cheap and easy. We’re all busy, fair enough. But the added convenience and time savings come with a great cost: we’re forgetting how to cook (microwaves don’t count) and we’re also forgetting about food itself. Kids today think that chicken comes from the grocery store, not a farm. How did this happen?

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    Photo Credit: New Line Cinema, from the movie, Dumb and Dumber

  • 01 Aug 2016 by Erik Wolf

    The next big thing in food travel is how secondary and tertiary destinations like Poland are poised to skyrocket in popularity.

    What's the next big thing in food travel? For the new food traveler, nothing quite scratches the itch better than your first trip to France, Italy or Spain. But after the second, third or fourth trip to these countries, foodies start to yearn for new and different. The occasional business trips to London, Singapore and New York give us some opportunity to try new food and beverage experiences, but typically trips like that are made for business reasons and are not necessarily our first choice as food destinations. We still dream of cute cafés with outstanding views, the best locals-only restaurants and a new “undiscovered” beverage. These are the kinds of experiences that we tend to find on our own or via word-of-mouth from friends and family who we trust. Often this information does not filter down quickly enough, or more likely, our friends and family are not the same kinds of foodies that we are, and the traveling foodie is left to find new and exciting destinations on his or her own. That can take a very long time.

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  • 01 Jul 2016 by Erik Wolf

    Before you’re a food or wine traveler, you’re just a traveler. The airport experiences we have on the way to our next great food or beverage-inspired holiday can make or break our entire holiday-making experience.

    In my role, I’ve had the good fortune to be able to travel to many places, meet many people and enjoy many unique and memorable meals. After a while, you notice a few things, especially when you frequent the same destinations. I had a dreadful experience at the Vancouver Canada airport recently and it got me thinking. What happens if visitors become so aggravated before they arrive at their destination that the bad experiences irreparably tarnish their entire trip?

    That’s how I felt flying into Vancouver, BC, Canada from Seattle.

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