Photo Credit: Courtesy of Erica Montgomery
How Erica Montgomery Started Her Portland Food Truck With Only $900
Erica Montgomery left her home state of Georgia in 2017, disillusioned, with only a suitcase and $900 to her name.
“I had experienced a lot of traumas there,” Montgomery recalled of that difficult period. “I was constantly moving around, and it just made it impossible for me to do things that any normal adult could; be a mother, be a human, work, maintain a home. It was all just impossible for me.”
She bought a one-way ticket to Oregon, her destination based on nothing but memories of a former roommate with what she remembers as a “really kind” demeanor and unlike anything she ever experienced.
That spontaneous decision led to Erica’s Soul Food, a food cart in Portland, serving meals inspired by Montgomery’s Southern upbringing in Atlanta.
Montgomery sat down with Travel Noire for a candid conversation about her rough beginnings, how the community galvanized to support her venture, and how the cart has impacted her relationship with her sons.
TN: What did you do in Georgia before you left? Had you worked in the food industry at all?
EM: I have worked in the food industry since the age of 19, on and off. In the kitchen, as a server, bartender, I’ve worked at the hostess stand, and washed dishes— I’ve pretty much done every position. But it started in the back of the house.
TN: How did the idea of the food cart come about?
EM: It was kind of spur of the moment. I live next to my food cart, and it’s in front of us, next to a convenience store. The guy that owns the store, I would see him every day, and go in there and talk to him about food and what the food was like in the cart that was there already. We kind of grew a rapport. I actually had just been fired from a job that I hated where I didn’t feel like I was respected. There were a lot of microaggressions going on. I come from a place where it was all Black. So working in this environment where my light-skinned a** was the Blackest person there was too much. It made me kind of upset with Portland for a while. Anyway, the guy was like “the girl is leaving the food cart. If you want that spot you can be there, but you have to decide in the next couple of days because there are seven other people that want that spot.” I had nothing else to do, so I gave it a shot.
TN: Your cart is soul food themed. What are your specialty dishes?
EM: I think right now in the city I’m probably most known for my wings. Atlanta style wings: hot, lemon pepper extra wet, and crinkle fries. It’s an art form. It might seem basic to some but if you know, you know. Also, my baking. I cook a lot of my family recipes from my grandparents, passed down. It’s kind of how I stay in Georgia, while not in Georgia.
TN: Besides Georgia, and your grandparents, what else influences your cuisine?
EM: My kids inspire me. They used to tell me when they were growing up to get my own restaurant. I would make dishes for them, and they’d be like, let’s put this on the menu. It was called Lindsey’s, my hypothetical restaurant. That’s my middle name. They always make me feel inspired. We talk about a lot of foods we want to make.
TN: How old are your kids and how many do you have?
EM: I have two. They’re 15 and 16. Teenage boys. They’re great.
TN: Do they help out with the cart?
EM: Yeah, the younger one more. He shows a bit more of an interest in it. But they both are very impressed. They’ve seen me come a long way from being on the streets of Atlanta, being in and out of their lives, to now running a business together. It’s nice for me, to get to see them see this happening like this. That’s part of why I do it too. So that I could show them no matter what you go through in your life, no matter where you come from, if you just really work hard and love yourself and focus on growth and learning yourself, that you can really do some cool stuff.
TN: Let’s look into the future. How far do you see this going?
EM: I absolutely would love a physical location. I probably would not move my cart though because it was put there partially by members of my community. They helped me out with that a lot. Greatly actually. And the Portland Trailblazers helped me with it also. But, I would love a physical location. I also would stay in Oregon but if there were an Erica’s Soul Food in the Philippines, I would love it. You know, I’ve thought about this a lot. I would never want to be a corporation. Because for me, it’s all about what I can bring to the space that I’m in rather than just being there to collect money from the people. We’ll see.
TN: You mentioned your community helping you out. What was their contribution?
EM: I crowdfunded for the down payment and they paid for a large amount of it. They filled that GoFundMe up really quick. And then the Trailblazers were like, we’ll finish it off. They pretty much put me in that cart, which was great. It was very weird. I felt really unloved and unsupported and alone most of my life. So to have something so tangible, such an expression of appreciation given to me — I love it. It’s a very different feeling.
This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.
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