E-San Thai Woodstock
9320 SE Woodstock Blvd, Portland, OR 97266
- Tell us your name, the name of your business and what you offer?
- My name is Rafael Rodriguez. I own E-San Thai Lents Food Cart and I offer Thai cuisine.
When and how did you start your business?
- I started my business on June 15, 2018. I have been the general manager of E-San Thai company since 2000. I was hired as a bartender and learned the menus. I was 15 years in charge then an opportunity came up. I asked the owner to create a food cart version and the owner sold the Woodstock location to me.
What sacrifices have you had to make along the way?
- I have sacrificed spending less time with my family and kids. It sounds like simple business but it’s not. Shopping every day in the morning is rushed. There’s not enough space to store everything. Time management is crucial to have everything fresh and great food quality. I have made rushed adjustments in life, eating quick breakfast, and going shopping on weekends at Asian shops when business opens at 11am. It’s a challenge to multi-task.
How has the pandemic affected you and your business?
- The pandemic resulted in me losing around 30% of my revenue after April 2020. Flipside bar was not open so only food carts were on their own. We all rely on each other. Loyal customers didn’t come back, many relocated or faced their own problems, and challenges. In November I closed down all month because I got sick with COVID. The first owner had it but then spread it to the whole family. The owner recovered fast but the family didn’t. I lost 2 employees who were scared of Covid. I’ve been looking for people who are willing to work but not many people want to come.
What are the things that make you happy while working?
- While working it makes me happy when customers come back, enjoy the food, compliment it, and give feedback. It shows that we are doing a good job. There are a lot of loyal customers. We have customized food and it’s made on the spot for customers when they order it, never made ahead of time. Vegan customers know that we put a lot of care into preparation.
What has been the most challenging part about owning a business?
- The most challenging part about owning a business is needing a flexible schedule, not enough time, dealing with taxes, and they are killing small businesses. Washington has lower taxes than Oregon. Unemployment taxes are especially too high for small businesses to bear. Transportation taxes apply as well. I have to maintain business hours even if there is not enough business.
Can you tell us about your family?
- My wife Tran is Vietnamese and we met in 2010 in Vietnam. I stayed a little longer than I thought. I married her in 2011 and sponsored her to come to the states. Tran has been very helpful and is the main cook. I have a 7 year old daughter named Sophia and she is trilingual. Sophia goes to Kelly Elementary school and is learning Russian. I also have a 3 year old son Tristan who speaks English and Vietnamese. He’s learning Spanish as well.
What do you enjoy about our community?
- I enjoy and like the way our community has been developing. I’ve known it for over 10 years and love how it has changed. I was nominated to be part of the neighborhood association but was too busy to fulfill.
What changes would you like to see in your community?
- It would be great to see farmer’s markets have a larger space for a change. Other areas have bigger and nicer farmer’s markets. If they could expand it would be nicer. People should also support sports a little bit more in our community.
A message you would like to share with teenagers.
- “Don’t waste your time, time is very valuable and it doesn’t come back. When you’re young you have a misconception of the world. Real world offers lots of connections interacting in person. Choose good books and good friends. Invest in your future. Save as much as you can when you’re young. I didn’t have a cell phone when I was young, I had to travel to other cities instead. Be involved in the community.”
A message you would like to share with people in the Lents neighborhood.
- “Shop local, support your businesses, embrace the diversity. The world is changing. Stay in touch with each other. Follow the guidelines for yourself, your friends, and your relatives.”