I was shocked when my wife found a new cart two blocks from our house. One because I’m typically one of the first people to know about new things coming to the Parkrose area, and I hadn’t heard about it yet. And two because it was a soul food place with a great looking menu including basa (like catfish but better), crawfish etouffee, fried salmon, and banana pudding! We got a Selena’s Sampler to check it all out, loved it, and have been back again already.
Selena Taylor and her husband Greg Taylor opened Selena’s Custom Kitchen on July 3, 2020 at the growing food cart pod located at 13110 NE Sandy Blvd. They both grew up in Portland and have family here. Selena went to Grant HS and Greg went to Benson HS and later Oregon State University. They have two children in elementary school, and Selena’s niece Serenity also cooks at the cart. Here’s our conversation.
What’s your background with cooking and serving?
Selena: Growing up with my grandmother in the kitchen cooking, family events, social events, selling fish at Last Thursdays on Alberta. My brother also does a non-profit, Inner City Basketball, and we did fish at his tournaments. It was kind of a big hit, so just cooking, inviting people over, social gatherings.
Greg: My degree was in business. It’s more about being supportive and being taught [to cook] by the best.
When did the idea for food cart begin to form?
Selena: It’s something that’s always been on my mind, but it was hard to take all of it and make it happen. The current situation we’re at now where we’re working from home freed up a lot of time for us, so we seized the moment and took advantage of the opportunity. We said, “Let’s do it.”
How did you go about getting this nice food cart?
Selena: We searched for carts, and we went and looked at a lot of carts. There was this lady who had this cart, and it just kind of looked like, you know how when you look at something like, “Oh my god, I love this”? It was kind of like love at first site. We purchased it, and we did the patio. It came together really nice.
What challenges did you face before opening?
Greg: Once we decided to do it, putting everything together from a business standpoint, simplifying the menu because at first, I think we were complicating things. Selena’s a good cook through and through, so it’s just, “What do we want to market, what do we want to present to the world, what’s our contribution to the community?” and finding our niche. I think the whole process has been challenging, but it’s been a beautiful one. We’re appreciative of every challenge and obstacle because that’s what you have to go through when you’re doing it.
So how did you ultimately determine what would be on the menu come opening day?
Greg: Not trying to brag, but Selena’s a great cook, so we just want to find out where we fit, what do we want to present. I recommended just doing a fish cart, fish and fries. I felt like that would be a good start to get our feet wet a little bit and go from there. Everything else with the additives and side orders was Selena.
Selena: For me, I wanted to start a food cart and have a full menu, just everything. It was asking around, seeing what people want. We had a couple tastings just as far as seeing the flavors and what people would respond to. The last tasting I had—no one had any issues. It was just, “great, great, I wouldn’t change nothing, great.” I thought it was good to do the etouffee because I don’t think there are a lot of soul food carts around in this area.
Who have been your main supporters?
Selena: My nieces always help me at home. My brother has been supportive because again, I work with him with his program doing his tournaments and selling fish and things like that, some friends, and community, neighborhood friends.
How did you connect with the property owner and come to place your cart here?
Selena: Lamar—it was my brother. He has a previous relationship with them because he stays over here as well about two blocks over. He had a relationship with them. And you know, trying to find cart space is difficult in Portland, and it’s expensive. It’s very expensive. He had introduced me to her, and it came together.
Greg: It’s a beautiful partnership. They’re very nice.
The Taylors shared that the put flyers in the neighborhood and had a great response.
Selena: A lot of people are happy we’re here. I feel like we get a lot of community support from people walking over or driving over or just driving past like, “what is that?” I’m surprised at the support from the local community, and they’re really happy to have this type of flavor in the neighborhood.
Greg: We were extremely nervous entering into something that’s uncharted territory. I went to school for business, but it’s one thing to get that book knowledge. The pragmatic is different. We appreciate getting the support and acknowledgment of the community. No guidance, no mentorship, you just gotta get out there.
Selena: I’ve always said though, if you have good food, good people, good atmosphere, good customer service, you gotta have a good result.
How do you envision the business interacting with community in the future?
Greg: Being a vehicle to comfort food… It’s trying times, so I think this is a good opportunity for us to make a difference. You can’t change the world or makeup of everything, but providing a good atmosphere, a welcoming experience, good food… and see what that can do for people, and I think that can do a lot.
Selena: Connection with the community and customers and to have an affordable place to eat. I feel like a lot of places are just high to go out and eat with your family. You end up spending so much money. I hear a lot of feedback from the customers, “Oh my god, why are you so cheap? I feel like you could raise your prices” or, “I love this place because I can come here and eat. I tell my friends about it because it’s affordable.” I like to hear that because we’re a four-person family, so when we go out, sometimes it’s, “wow we spent a lot of money here.” So we’re reasonable, affordable.
What are some of your goals in the next couple years?
Selena: We’re going to be offering catering as well. We’re going to try to get a new menu here coming up shortly. My goal is to expand the menu, be able to offer a couple more items and a couple more desserts—I’m a real big dessert fan. And then a couple years down the line, Lord willing, we’d like to open another location. We get a lot of feedback from people in Beaverton and Hillsboro, so just to be able to open another food cart. At this point, we’re not looking to open a brick and mortar. I like the feel and atmosphere of the food cart, so maybe open more.
Greg: If it’s successful, open another one and duplicate it.
How do you feel now that you’ve been open for almost two months?
Greg: I’m not really nervous. I’m happy with how things are going. I’m proud of me and Selena for overcoming the obstacles, there was one day where the stress and challenges was just big.
I’m proud of us for being in tune with one another, being in sync, being focused, and being driven by the right factors. Not looking at wealth as the primary focus even though you are a business—you gotta pay attention to it, but it’s like, “what is our contribution?” I feel like if you’re doing what you’re supposed to, then everything will come. If you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, I don’t think that you’ll be able to sustain things because that motivation is not something that can keep you anchored.
We are both very passionate about it. I think we communicate well between each other even with our stress level increasing.
Selena: For me, I’m excited. I’m just having fun. The stress level is there, because like Greg said, we’ve had a lot of challenges, just unexpected challenges with the cart or with the food. But when talking with customers or seeing their reaction when they eat or when they come here, it’s just so much fun and so rewarding that I just like seeing people happy and loving my food. I just love it. It’s rewarding when you hear people say, ‘I’m so glad you’re here” and, “your food is delicious.” That’s really exciting for me. Right now, I’m still having fun. I’m loving it. The cooking is fun. To be able to do something daily that you love to do and be able to satisfy someone else…
I also want to say, “Thank you Parkrose!” I have a lot of conversations with a lot of the customers, and that’s my goal to talk to people and have that experience. There are a lot of people in the area that appreciate and make us feel welcome.