Street Food Profiles: The Frying Scotsman in Portland, Oregon

Note: It's time for another edition of Street Food Profiles. This week we scoot to the street food mecca of Portland to meet a Scottish lad who started a chippy on wheels.

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[Photographs: The Frying Scotsman Fish and Chips]

Name: The Frying Scotsman Fish and Chips
Vendor: James King, owner and chef
Twitter: @frying_scotsman
Location and hours? My trailer is parked in the garage of an established gallery and frame shop in the industrial area of NW Portland on 22nd and Raleigh called Katayama Framing. I am open Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., sometimes later on Saturdays.

What's on the menu? Fried cod and chips (the current bestseller), haddock and chips, halibut and chips. People also like the mahi mahi and chips, but that's a new menu addition. I will most likely bring red snapper back to the line-up soon (many British folks request it). Cod and haddock are the traditional fish we use in Scotland.

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How long have you been street fooding? We opened September 14, 2009. I have been a chef for more than two decades in the UK, but have always dreamed of opening my own chippy. I don't know if it would have been possible in Scotland, but it was definitely possible here!

I make my own batter from a recipe handed down from my mom in Scotland. Everyday I hand-peel and cut the chips. Lately I've been going through 70 pounds of chips per four-hour lunch shift. I also make my own tartar sauce and British coleslaw. For drinks, I like to have Tetley tea and IRN-BRU on hand although it has been challenging to find lately.

How has Twitter affected business? I have been on Twitter since day one, but recently switched to a new account, so it's just building traffic again (@frying_scotsman). I find our Facebook account to be ten times more effective for my business because it allows for more visual descriptions, it's more selective on who follows who, and I enjoy the fan interaction.

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Why a mobile business over brick-and-mortar? The price was right for my biz—$3,000 for a trailer, fees here and there for licensing, some electrical upgrades, and boom—you're in business.

Who are your typical customers? Engineers from Conway, Freightliner and healthcare workers at Good Samaritan hospital on 22nd and Lovejoy, many graphic designers and animators from Laika, as well as creatives from agencies like Wieden and Kennedy.

Because we're in a gallery space, our crowds tend to appreciate art and culture and they seem to put up well with eating in their coats in a cold garage for a taste of great fish and chips.

What about the UK ex-pats? Saturdays are big for them, and we seem to get lots of families and older couples in then too. It's a real destination for some—I had one couple come in from the Gorge which is 60 miles east who came solely for my fish and chips. On Saturdays families can take their time without the hustle and bustle of the lunch crowd.

Describe a typical day from start to finish.

  • 8:30 a.m. Eat breakfast with the fam and drop my two-and-a-half year old at Montessori school, check in with the family at home in the UK.
  • 9:00 to 9:30 Buy fish and potatoes if needed. Start peeling and prepping. Mix batter, sauces and blanche chips.
  • 10 a.m. Set out card tables with my mum's tablecloths from home (Scotland).
  • 10:30 to 11 a.m. First customers arrive.
  • Noon to 2:30 p.m. Mad rush for fish, taking orders and preparing meals one by one.
  • 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Clean up and make shopping list.
  • 3:30 p.m. Shop for goods.
  • 4 p.m. Come to play with the youngster.

What were you doing before this? I was the chef-manager on an oil rig in the North Sea for almost twenty years. Before that I worked under Bill Costley at a hotel in Troon, Scotland, many times the home of golf's British Open.

When I met my wife in 2006, I was transferred to work off the shore of New Orleans on an oil rig. When they announced the rig would be leaving for Sierra Leone, Africa, we decided it was time for me to pack it in and work in Portland. The stress was becoming too hard on all of us to be apart for a month at a time. My wife has her own business so we knew some of the risks and rewards and decided to just go for it.

What makes your food so special? Can anything else like it be found in the city? You can't find really good British fish and chips in Portland for around $7. I hear this day in and day out, mostly from British ex-pats, but also from folks who have spent time eating at fish and chip shops in the UK. I don't have a huge mark-up or overhead because it's just me. I have taken a craft I learned from my home and transferred it here.

Also, we have covered seating, which is rare for a single food cart.

How would you define "street food"? Street food to me is a meal you buy from a vendor on the street who could feasibly pick up and move within an hour.

The best street food city and why. London because of the variety and openness to cultures and different foods. Then Portland for its adventurousness and Portlanders' appreciation for great things not always being the biggest or shiniest or most slickly packaged to be successful.

Your comfort food after a long day? British sweeties. I have the Scottish sweet tooth.

Advice for an aspiring vendor? A catering background in a fast-paced environment is crucial for this business. You hope that you will be so busy people will be lining up around the block, but when that day comes, you need to know how to manage it successfully, and treat everyone like a valuable customer.

Also, make sure you have someone who can market your cart, from the menus to the website to managing the Twitter and Facebook accounts to knowing when to advertise and why. Pay (or trade) for professional design and photography—don't take it on yourself unless you were a designer in a former life. You need to be a great cook to survive as well as a great people person so focus on those and let someone else do the marketing.

Finally, eat at a lot of food carts and restaurants. Pay for your meals (rather than hang around and ask for keys to success) and take good notes. Support your local vendors, reward good customers and have a good time.

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