On the edge of a charming North Portland neighborhood is The Arbor Lodge, a woodsy space full of sunlight and good coffee smells, and lots and lots of regulars. As a coffeeshop and as a community space, it's a cozy place to be.
Co-owners Scott and Jolynn Davison opened the cafe's doors in September 2011 with a strong vision. More than three years later, it's still going strong, regularly hosting quirky events from art shows to music invitationals, and delivering great coffee with a low-key vibe. Scott Davison is known for his strong opinions on coffee and community, and The Arbor Lodge, named after the neighborhood it serves, is a daily study in their effectiveness. Recently, I sat with him and asked him about his vision, what it means to deliver love through coffee, and whether he's seen the elusive Sasquatch lately. (That, it turns out, depends on your interpretation of the word "Sasquatch.)
"From my perspective, coffee is about community," says Davison, "And better coffee does it better. I'm not talking about snobbery. If you invite your friend to your house, you will make the best possible dinner to honor them. So, when we invite people into their third space, their second home, and serve them something less than the best, it's a hospitality problem. I try to serve the best possible coffees because my end goal is showing beautiful hospitality."
The Barista Around the Corner
Davison enters his domain with the air of a host, nodding to the student in the corner, the young mother on the couch, and embracing the businessman in the suit. He says The Arbor Lodge is a strongly neighborhood-focused shop, with half of the staff members living less than a mile from the shop. "You'll see your barista at the grocery store, or walking down the sidewalk. That's significant." He adds that his goal is for staff to feel comfortable asserting their individuality through their craft while embracing the shop's overall vision. "Every shop has its own voice, and we have to find ways for baristas to explore their potential in our context."
Diversity in Action, Warts and All
Talk with Davison for thirty seconds and you won't miss his dominant passion: an almost desperate need to make a difference in the lives of people who have been oppressed by "The System" in which we operate. Vocoform, his not-for-profit, specifically focuses on giving underprivileged youth the tools to succeed in life and business, leading to training labs like the nearby Arbor Lodge Urban Farm, a pizza cart, and a smoothie and crepe stand nearby.
"I mean, as a straight white male, I am one of the system's oppressors, and along the way I realized how much I miss by not being in contact with the entire community. I see my sole purpose is to create opportunities and capacity for success. Around here, we do messy, we do beautiful. We don't get it right all the time. I'm as flawed an owner as any other out there. But when we are doing it well, people feel loved, honored, and cherished."
But, Did You Really See Sasquatch?
Portland-based micro roaster Tanager Coffee has supplied the coffees for The Arbor Lodge for a while now, and Tanager owner CJ Speelman still works barista shifts. Still, Davison had planned to offer his own coffee for years, and in the past few months has partnered with a talented local roaster to offer "Sasquatch: An Elusive Northwest Blend" as the primary espresso. (The name is a tip of the hat to the yearly Sasquatch art show that has become a highlight for Arbor Lodge regulars.)
Any Portland coffee drinker will be familiar with the predominant bent toward single-origin espresso, but Davison says "I wanted to create a coffee for the masses. Single origins are beautiful. They are just stunning. But so is a good blend!" The Sasquatch is roasted (a little) darker than the Tanager single origin espresso still offered at The Arbor Lodge, and is designed as a complex blend that works well with milk, and offers chocolate, caramel, and dried apple notes. The reception was mixed, just as Davison expected, and he intends to continue offering Tanager coffee as well as the Sasquatch in future.
"What makes The Arbor Lodge what it is?" Davison takes a sip from his cappuccino, purses his lips, and looks around. "You know, our staff, the space, this community. We couldn't be what we are without this immensely quirky group of staff and customers." He pauses again, nods, and smiles. "It's good stuff."