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Bus restaurant riles Argay neighborhood


Since March an old bus has been sitting at the intersection of Northeast Sandy Boulevard and 141st Avenue. In a shifting tableau, plants that include some rather attractive flowers, a portable toilet, and a series of structures either going up or coming down surround the bus. Since July a sign has proclaimed it to be the El Carreton restaurant.

Through some eyes, this is detriment and an eyesore at a strategic gateway to the Argay neighborhood, an example of how a knowledgeable operator can game the system and get away with evading the standards for personal and corporate conduct. To others, it is an ingenious entrepreneur, operating on a shoestring, finding a way to provide for a poor population, despite harassment by intolerant people with too much time on their hands.

Jorge Blackmore in front of his mobile restaurant El Carreton — currently open for business and parked on the property fronting Sandy Boulevard at Northeast 141st Avenue. Karl Kunberger, owner of the Venture Inn Tavern & Sports Bar across the street wants Blackmore and his bus out of the neighborhood.
Both viewpoints were present, and clashed, at the July 18 Argay Neighborhood Association meeting. Randy Slipher, owner of the property with the KC’s Mini-Market & Deli in the rear, was there. So was Jorge Blackmore, operator of El Carreton, as was Karl Kunberger, owner of the Venture Inn Tavern & Sports Bar across the street from Slipher and a former Argay Association chair, and many others. “On average there are about six people at those meetings,” Kunberger told the Memo. “That night there were 75.”

According to several witnesses, Slipher lashed out at guest speaker Patty Hendrickson when she described garbage and filth being deposited at the Friendly Village Market and adjacent apartment complexes. When Kunberger criticized the bus, Slipher turned on him. According to Kunberger and others, Slipher used very profane language and, at one point, told the bar owner, “Hey, you asshole, we can take this outside.” It is not the first time Slipher has threatened him, Kunberger said.

Slipher denied threatening Kunberger. “I told him he could kiss my ass,” Slipher said.

What is the point of contention, or at least the immediate one?

El Carreton is illegal, or should be. When it opened, it had no running water; this was installed three days after the Argay meeting. This is typical of the operation, Kunberger and Argay Chair Valerie Curry said; Blackmore meets official demands after he is cited for violations.

When the place first opened, “I called every (city) department I could think of,” Kunberger said. Among these was the Portland Bureau of Development Services. BDS’s Rebecca Esau gave Blackmore a code adjustment to allow the restaurant operation subject to several conditions to be fulfilled in six months. Among other things, Blackmore must plant at least three trees and enough shrubs to screen his eating area, he must pave the parking area, he must construct a handicapped ramp and awning for the deck built next to the bus, and he must get permits and final inspection for everything.

On Aug. 8, El Carreton had hot and cold running water. It had a clean-looking sink, steam table, a freezer and two refrigerators. Blackmore had obtained a Multnomah County health permit. What he said would eventually be a toilet is under construction, as is an access ramp. “I presented a plan to the city before I started, and I’ve just been following the plan,” he said.

He is looking forward to putting in plantings; he said they would include tomatoes, peppers and herbs such as oregano and thyme, as well as flowers that will attract and provide habitat for “beneficial insects. I want to have the prettiest garden in this area.”

Blackmore said he has a background in nutrition and health, and that he is trying to compost as much of his food wastes as possible. He said he would clear out the rear of the bus to provide indoor dining in bad weather. (The space could accommodate four seats at most.) He also said he might occasionally provide space for “poetry, or an Aztec dance group.”

A week later Multnomah County ordered the restaurant closed because the portable toilet offered no facilities for washing hands. Blackmore then obtained a new toilet that had this feature.

Blackmore attributed the inspection to a neighborhood complaint. “They’ve (Argay Neighborhood Association) been trying to stop me from the beginning, and I don’t understand it,” he said. He sold Mexican food from the bus at Northwest 9th Avenue and Couch Street “for almost a year,” and was not subject to so many rules, he said.

“We support any business that starts up, and we want it to succeed,” Curry said. “We’re very upset with the appearance of this place. There’s a portable toilet a few feet off the deck. This is one of the main portals to our neighborhood.”

“It’s deteriorating the neighborhood and its values,” said Kunberger, who added that he has collected 200 signatures on a petition opposing El Carreton. “It’s a breeding ground for illegal activity. When people congregate like that, you know what happens. In six months, when the weather turns bad and people stop going there, he won’t survive. If he doesn’t make it, he’ll turn the key and drive off, leaving junk and a dying tree behind.”

Is jealousy that Blackmore can operate on such a shoestring also an issue? Kunberger said that he spends $10,000 a year on fees and assessments levied on his tavern or its activities.

“I don’t know what the problem is,” Slipher said. “Hell, the property looks better since (Blackmore) moved in. He’s just a hard-working American, busting his ass, trying to make a living. People are saying this, saying that, trying to make people look bad.” He accused Kunberger of conducting a vendetta because Slipher was able to acquire land Kunberger coveted.

Not so, Kunberger said. He had wanted to purchase the land, but pulled out because he couldn’t finance it. “I’ve known Randy for years and I have nothing against him — he’s on our darts team. I’m against the things he’s doing.”

This is a fairly long list. Slipher first used the property near Sandy for an illegal car auction until he was shut down, Kunberger said. “The market (KC’s Mini-Market & Deli) mostly sells alcohol, cigarettes and drug paraphernalia,” he said. “(Slipher) only paints it when there’s graffiti.” At the Argay meeting, “He showed his true colors,” Kunberger said.

“In the past he (Slipher) hasn’t been particularly concerned with anyone else’s opinion; he just wants to make money,” Curry said. “One gets the impression he has no feelings for his community.”

To this Slipher said, “I’ve spent many, many hours fixing things up, didn’t do it for anyone, and didn’t get any thanks for it.”
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