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Restaurants Doing Good

From demonstrations to dining, social justice is top of mind in Portland’s culinary community
Ex_Novo

Over the years—and especially since the summer 2020—Portland is known as a city where people take to the street for causes its residents believe in: The Black Lives Matter movement, women’s and reproductive rights, and other rallying cries for an equitable society. The civically engaged city flourishes because of the passionate voices within it. This social justice ethos is engrained into much of the culture of Portland. The community and passion seen at protests also lives on and is strengthened through smart, creative and often altruistic businesses. When it comes to inclusion, many local businesses—much of whom are Black-owned, Latinx-owned, and Queer-owned—are admirable examples and leaders in the path toward a society, frankly, needing to do better and be better.

In the family-oriented Cully neighborhood, Nico's Ice Cream is a perfect addition. The New-Zealand style ice cream gets a unique spin with options like Oregon marionberry topped with tangy chamoy. Owner Nico Vergara was raised in Northeast Portland himself and found the storefront while walking around his own neighborhood. Vergara knows that in the world of business ownership, representation matters. To that end, he is tied into the Portland-based Latino Network to share his small-business success story with students.

Speed-o Cappuccino brightens Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard with its flirty pink coffee cart. Owners Hanson and Joseph Miller opened the cart as an inclusive space for LGBTQ+ baristas and coffee connoisseurs. Unapologetically queer, Miller and Hanson describe their coffee-making crew as "himbos, thembos and flirts." The baristas are cheeky, literally, as they serve up Spanish cortados in pink booty shorts and crop tops. For a nod toward the gender-fluid Lil Nas, order the Montero Bowl topped with cocoa nibs and sesame seeds.

On the drizzliest of winter days, Stone Soup offers a bowl of warm comfort in Old Town Portland. The non-profit restaurant trains people at risk of homelessness for careers in food and hospitality. Founders Ronit and Craig Gerad informed their non-profit model based on their combined experiences in international aid work, food service, and living the Jewish principles of Tikkun Olam (Hebrew for “mend the world”). For employees, professional development leads into their job placement network. For visitors, it means piping hot bowls of curried squash, creamy potato leek, or the “NY Penicillin” of scratch-made chicken noodle soup.

Everybody Eats, one of the few Black-owned restaurants in Portland’s Pearl District, serves up decadent po’boys, Cajun chicken pasta, and crab-stuffed mac and cheese. Co-owner Johnny Huff Jr., who was born and raised in Portland, has contributed to the city in many ways. In June 2020, Everybody Eats fed hundreds of Black Lives Matter protestors for free. The owners then went on to start a new nonprofit, Black and Blue PDX, with a portion of proceeds from Everybody Eats going toward programs fostering positive relationships between at-risk youth and police officers.

Ex Novo Brewing Company has a business model built around the ethos of giving back. Since opening its first location in 2014, the brewery has donated 100% of net profits—nearly $100,000 so far—to community and global causes. Current beneficiaries include Friends of the Children, IJM, Impact NW, and MercyCorps. Furthering its mission, Ex Novo has also created its own volunteer group where community-minded individuals can gather, volunteer together, and (as is the Portland way) drink beer.