EUGENE– We all know that the economy has been a major problem for big and small businesses in Eugene. Lane County lost 17,700 jobs between March 2008 and October 2010, and many of the businesses that employed those people have closed, with others on the verge of collapse. Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? In spite of regular assurances and sound bites telling us how the “Great Recession” is finally over, most of us are not feeling it. While researching another story I recently discovered a bright spot in the local economy in an unsuspecting guise: a polished silver food cart. These micro-businesses are shelling out inexpensive, delicious food along with more heart than you can find in your typical brick and mortar restaurants. Yes restaurants, the cart food is that good.

The Nosh Pit

Down on Kincaid in front of the PLC, Corey Wisun is closing up the Nosh Pit after selling out for the day, “I think the diversity in our menu offerings has been one of our keys to success… It’s all sort-of-familiar, but we tweak it just a bit, add a certain ingredient to make it just a LITTLE bit different- and to push the people’s pallette to make them say. ‘Oh wow!’”

After moving a few locations, Wisun has finally found a “home” for the Pit on campus and says that the captive audience of students and professors provide ample opportunity for spreading the Nosh word. He and his partner Nicole Peltz started the Nosh Pit a year ago after a successful few years with their local-friendly Field-to-Table, “I’d been wanting to get into the food cart scene for quite awhile because of my love for ethnic/global street food.”

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

I was still starving after missing Nosh’s staple – the BBQ Pork Pulled Sandwich (get down there early people, lunchtime on campus is no joke), so I decided to swing downtown and see how the other half lives.

Albee's Original Hot Dog Cart

“Sandwiched” between the laundromat and the corner store sits one of Eugene’s newest testaments to small business success… Albee’s NY Gyros. Albee’s secret recipe gyro meat spins silently behind the converted speaker/counter as hip-hop drums out from below the cash register. My mouth was watering the moment I stepped in; here on the corner of 11th and Lawrence, the economy is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. ”

Albee Bahimaj traded his car for a hot dog cart in 2007 and parked it on the corner of Olive and Broadway, “I was out there rain, sleet, and snow sellin dogs after midnight when everyone else was partying. For me, it’s customer service and consistency first.” Albee branched out with a favorite from back home in Brooklyn- the Gyro- but still runs the hot dog cart. You can get one of the best dogs in town right in front of the HorseHead and John Henry’s.

Albee's NY Gyros

Albee has turned his NY/Mediteranean business into a thriving local hot-spot that provides the best Gyro (Ji-Roh, Yeer-oh, or Euro will do) in town. “I took the time to try all the food before I decided to sell it, and I’m actually the only person in Eugene that has this brand of meat for my Gyros.” While Albee’s Gyro isn’t officially a food cart, it has all the attitude, atmosphere, and street food you’d expect from a cart. Once I sat down and sank my teeth in, at least for a moment, the economy and unemployment and statistics all melted away… that is more than you can ask from any food scene.

It seems the Emerald City’s food carts are weathering the recession, some even thriving. Come down and join me in line as I make the rest of my food cart rounds, but seriously, no cuts.