For so many people, downtown is a place of excitement—the hub of all action within a city. However for Eugene, the surrounding neighborhoods, such as the Whitaker, and University of Oregon campus areas have started pulling larger crowds that once filled the downtown streets. During the summer months however, the entire city finds itself flooded with people looking for a whole in the wall eatery, or a new place to shop, on a whole, just a new adventure. Nevertheless, if there is one culture that will never die, it’s food carts. Restaurants are permanent locations that people can typically rely on for a sit down dinner with the family, or an early breakfast with a couple of buddies, but in the past couple of years, food carts have been making a name for themselves and changing the ways, and places people indulge their cravings.
Located in Eugene’s downtown between 8th street, and South Park, is a budding venue for a variety of food cart entrepreneurs, and for 22-year-old Colby Smythe, this summer is turning out to be quite the adventure. “I needed a job for the summer, and didn’t think it would be likely to find a fulltime job, so I just started this [Kailua Shave Ice] up.” Says Smythe. Located in the heart of Eugene’s Saturday Market, the food cart dream has become a reality for Colby Smythe. Growing up in Hawaii, Smythe would often enjoy the traditional island treat of shaved ice. His new summer time gig has given him the ability to make money, as well as make a name for himself in the area. The food cart culture has been around for decades, but with such a fast paced lifestyle so many people lead, it’s not always easy to spend the sit-down time in a restaurant. “A lot of other food cart owners in the area express hopes of opening up restaurants, but that takes a lot of time and money, and the return often times can put you–as they say–under. But with a food cart, you can get your name out there, and create a customer base to sort of—test the waters,” expresses Smythe.
Downtown Eugene has been in need of a facelift for quite some time, and is for the most part congested with a mass of street kids—which most say deters them from spending a lot of time in the area. However Smythe takes the optimistic view stating “yeah, I see my fair share of weirdoes, but never has it gotten to the point where I’ve felt unsafe,” and even though foot traffic has been dispersed with all of the new developing neighborhoods around Eugene, Smythe shows confidence that the term downtown will always have it’s feeling of activity saying even though “downtown Eugene isn’t exactly a hot spot–but people do walk through—I mean it’s still downtown!”
His favorite part about being involved in the downtown food cart culture is the ability to feel like he’s part of the city, and being within the park, gives Smythe the ability to represent himself, and his business how he would want to. Aside from having to load his cart on and off of his truck every morning and evening, Smythe feels that he made a great decision to plunge into the, yet another promising community effort to diversify the ways we eat, live, and interact as a neighbors.
By Tucker Leverton