Blockbuster in Northeast Portland during this Pandemic- Hawaiian food Cart Grind Wit Tryz
Tryzen Patricio came to Oregon to play baseball. His real calling was food.
Born and raised in Oahu’s Ewa Beach neighborhood, the 23-year-old food cart owner was “always the first one in the kitchen” helping prepare feasts for family get-togethers. On non-baseball days at James Campbell High School, where Patricio hit the Hawaii State Championship-winning run his senior year, he would wake up at 6 a.m. to make 100 Spam musubis, then pass them out at school for $1 each. They would be gone by lunch.
At Grind Wit Tryz, Patricio’s year-old food cart, that schedule hasn’t changed much, only the volume has increased. Most days, Patricio gets to the cart before dawn to begin roasting pork, steaming squid and coconut wrapped in taro leaves, and prepping the rest of a small menu that will sell out each day. People begin to gather around 11:30 a.m. By noon, when the cart usually opens, the line has snaked through the canopy-covered picnic tables at the Park the Carts pod out to the sidewalk on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
And that’s all without much in the way of local press (until now). When we speak by phone, Patricio asks for a break while talking about what he learned growing up in Hawaii, a place he feels “blessed” to have been raised, even if the paradise label doesn’t always fit for those who live there full time. It’s his first time talking with a journalist since hitting that walk-off single in high school, he says.
Yet driven almost entirely by word-of-mouth support, wait times can now stretch to two hours during an average Friday or Saturday lunch. In nearly a decade covering Oregon’s food scene, I’ve never seen a line for food as consistently as long as the one at Grind Wit Tryz.
Customers come for the tasty food, particularly the ono (“delicious”) chicken, which Patricio breads in seasoned flour, deep fries and tosses in a sweet garlic soy sauce, a dish that makes up as much as 60% of the cart’s sales. But customers are also there for the portion sizes. For $12, Patricio and fianceé Candace Lacuesta fill each clamshell container with soft rice, mayo-drenched mac salad and so much fried chicken that the top won’t fully close until you’ve eaten a few morsels off the top. When people get to the front of the line, most end up ordering a second plate, taking the leftovers home for a second (or third) meal later in the week.
“It’s big portions and affordable, which is what people from Hawaii LOVE,” Eem chef Colin Yoshimoto, who also hails from Oahu, explained in a text as I waited through a one hour and fifty-minute line last Friday. “And there is minimal competition with real local-style plate lunch where the business is also owned by a local, so Hawaiian people flock there.”
Patricio’s Ewa Beach home is a sports hotbed, home to former Alabama star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (now a top NFL draft pick with the Miami Dolphins), as well as the 2005 Little League World Series champions (the year before Patricio was eligible). During his senior season in high school, Patricio was recruited to play baseball at Northeast Portland’s now-closed Concordia University. But after a position shift from catcher to pitcher led to a series of arm injuries, Patricio had a change of heart, deciding to rededicate his focus on food during his sophomore year.
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