In a time when food halls are all the rage, the closure of the downtown food cart complex Cart Lab may come as a surprise. The expansive 7,000-square-foot venue played home to several popular food carts and a full bar, and it had a setup similar to the downtown food hall Pine Street Market, in which you ordered at the restaurant of your choice and then ate in a communal seating area. Bo Kwon, the restaurateur behind the Koi Fusion food cart empire, led the project, and it furnished fast-casual dishes just south of Waterfront Park — an area relatively short on daytime dining options.
Speaking with Eater, Kwon says he would have stuck out the lease until it expired in December but maintenance issues spurred him to close this month.
“We had to close the Lab due to a broken gas line that would have cost too much to justify repairing,” he says. “It’s been a crazy learning experience on how difficult it can be to merge concepts. For me, the collaboration concept does work, and hopefully others can learn from our mistakes and our wins.”
Since last November, several food carts operated out of Cart Lab, including Fomo Fried Chicken, Wasabi Sushi, Tight Tacos, PDX Sliders, and Kwon’s Koi Fusion.
“We learned a ton about boundaries, staffing, and competition in a short amount of time,” says Kwon. “At the end of the day, I’m proud that we launched a great cart (Fomo), and all the concepts are still doing great from a marketing perspective. Wasabi and Tight Tacos are all killing it, and we are so happy that it worked out for them.”
Kwon says Koi Fusion also has news to share: It’ll open its Wilsonville location on September 10.