A little over a month ago, the NY Times wrote a piece entitled “The Struggle to Save Portland”. As you may imagine, this wasn’t a flattering piece. If you live in this city, you likely know what they were talking about, especially if you live or work downtown. The last few months haven’t been easy down here. I cannot tell you how hard it is for me to admit that, mostly because of the proximity of it all to our businesses. In many ways, as business owners who rely on foot traffic and reservations, we have learned to be cautious in the way in which we speak about the city. In other words, it's not really good for business for me to tell you how bad things really are around here.
Yeah, kinda. I mean, our restaurants are in a bubble, and that bubble just happens to be in an area that most people love to write off: downtown. So, we do what we can. When you walk through the doors of República, De Noche, or Lilia, we work to transport you. The idea is that you forget where you are for the duration of your dinner. República and Lilia aren’t really much of a problem. De Noche, however, can be challenging because of the chaos that exists up and down the Park Blocks.
Look, I wouldn’t lie to you. The Park Blocks have seen better days, but trust me when I say that things are changing. Not to mention the fact that it isn’t nearly as bad as many say that it is. Don’t get me wrong, there are still days where things appear to be more chaotic than they typically are - the occasional fight breaking out on the basketball court, a random barbecue next to cars, the guy that likes to show up with the loud speaker and play DJ for the neighborhood, the person who likes to “come in hot” and wind everyone up… these folks might concern some, but for us, it's just sorta become part of our community.
Truly, the most Portland thing I’ve seen here was the “chaos” that I just described playing out alongside a Bocce ball tournament in the middle of it all. Some people were drinking hard liquor, others were drinking kombucha. It all worked out, no one got hurt.
It was like watching Nature run its course on the Nat Geo channel, only instead of watching a hyperlapse video of a seed growing and becoming an oak tree, we got to watch the seeds of gentrification and the growth of its stubborn roots. Yet, truth be told, if someone asked me to pitch-in to convert those basketball courts into pickle-ball courts, I’d run the fundraiser myself! You are probably wondering why I would do that, gentrification is bad, right?!
Look, we are two blocks from the Pearl, and also two blocks from a local dealing spot. The whole thing is truly confusing. All we ask for is order, and sometimes, this feels far from it. If pickleball courts would bring that order, then surely I can live with a few more older folks having the time of their lives in the park. Also, not for nothing, but I think the kids attending PNCA deserve better than what they have to deal with now on a daily basis when all they are trying to do is get to class.
I know how confusing this all might sound, but just imagine what people think of when they read the conflicting media about Portland: A city with an incredible food community, remarkable Chefs and restaurants, as well as one of the worst drug and houselessness epidemics in the nation. It's confusing. As a first time restaurant owner, I like to believe that I picked the best time to join the industry. That’s how I survive daily, by telling myself that. I genuinely believe that it will never be as bad as it is now. I mean that. And right now, well… we are surviving.
At the core of it all, most of our stress comes from these pieces that do not take into consideration the other side of the coin: the work of the people carrying this city. Truth is, if you are a restauranteur or a Chef/Owner, you are carrying this city. Trust me, I know. Half of my days are spent complaining to anyone willing to listen about the lack of action, the other half, I spend it trying to convince the public to make the trek downtown and come support us all!
You see why it’s confusing? Yet we keep going. We keep grinding on both ends. We do this by diving head first into our work. It is our safe-space. Whether you are a Chef coming in before anyone else or the Chef turning off the lights at the end of the night. If you are lucky like I am, you are blessed with people who happen to be both. These are the people that are carrying this town. The people who are relentless. Who deal with the madness and the uncertainty of what this city will look like in 1 year, 3 years, 5 years.
If it's still standing, which it will be, it will be because we didn’t let the noise deter us.
We didn’t have the option to uproot our business or close shop and walk away into the sunset. We don’t have that privilege. We don’t have that luxury.
And so, we keep working. And we keep working. And we keep working… Until the traffic is back to the city.
Until the Green Loop is complete.
Until the Park Blocks are cleaned up.
Until people are back working in offices. Until there is a better solution for folks dealing with mental health and housing issues… Until the pushers and dealers get pushed out of the city.
Until you can feel safe parking your car downtown. Until you can feel safe again walking along the MAX stop. Until the NY Times writes something nice about Portland again. This is what we tell ourselves in order to keep going. Keep working. See you all here.
Don’t believe the madness.
Or maybe believe it a little.
But come support nonetheless.