A lively food-cart scene in downtown Medford could evolve into a smorgasbord of cheap eats for hungry workers and students.
"The more competition from stands around us, the more people will come," said Jaime Merlos, who runs Imperial Cuisine at the corner of Eighth Street and Riverside Avenue with his brother Ramone.
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Coming Friday: More than a dozen vacant storefronts plague Main Street's core, but some say a new urban vibe is pumping life into downtown.
Imperial Cuisine, which offers Mexican food and burgers, sits on a parking lot that could be crowded with food carts under a plan by Doug "Digger" O'Dell.
He wants to convert the front-end alignment shop of the former Goodyear Tire store at 101 S. Riverside Ave. into a small tavern that would serve beer and wine to customers who would frequent at least six food carts in the parking lot.
"If we can get the concept going, it will be really popular," O'Dell said.
The 65-year-old Medford resident, who has run other businesses in town, has applied for a $28,000 facade-improvement grant from the Medford Urban Renewal Agency for the Digger Goodyear Tavern and Food Court. MURA could make a decision on the grant today.
He plans to build a cooler on the front of the building, where brews would be chilled. Taps would be mounted on the interior wall, with a bar running down the middle of the building.
An awning would be installed over the front to provide shade, and a roll-up door on the side of the building would be a nod to the building's previous incarnations as service station and alignment shop.
O'Dell, who hopes for the same kind of success experienced by the lively street-vendor scene in Portland, already has gutted the interior of the Goodyear building and plans to install both interior and exterior dining areas.
The permits and other preliminary work to remodel the building could take another three months to line up, he said. O'Dell hopes his venture is operational later this summer.
So far, O'Dell has only Imperial Cuisine located on his side of the parking lot. Figgy's Food Truck is across Eighth Street on a parking lot owned by Valley Pawn and Trading.
O'Dell plans to rent spaces for food carts for $250 a month, which includes electricity, and he is on the lookout for vendors who need a place to set up shop. He said he has received a variance from the city to cluster the food carts on his lot.
His 33-year-old son, Doug, will be the bartender at the tavern. Doug said he got the idea while he was working in Portland.
"I thought maybe a smaller version would work down here," he said.
In downtown Medford, about eight street vendors operate on various corners from Jackson Street to 10th Street, on both Riverside and Central avenues. The number of street vendors goes up and down depending on the season and the number of customers, with many of the carts catering to college students.
Melissa Jones-Hanscom, owner of Figgy's, said she applauds O'Dell's concept.
"I think it's fabulous," she said. "It's nice to have everybody in a central location."
George Kramer, a local historic preservation consultant, said the former service station isn't considered historic, but the O'Dells asked him to come up with a design that would capture something of the history of the building.
He said this nondescript building is an example of a good use of facade-improvement dollars to help liven up an otherwise drab corner.
"All of downtown development brings more people on the streets," he said. "Medford has such a large student population that the food trucks are perfect for that."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.