Off N Denver Avenue in Portland, you can find a paleo restaurant, multiple cafes, and a hip record store, but on the corner of N Kilpatrick, you can go to church. The non-denominational house of worship known as Celebration Tabernacle owns Po’Shines Cafe De La Soul, the soul food restaurant next door and — despite rapid gentrification in the surrounding Kenton area — it’s not going anywhere any time soon.
Since 2007, the restaurant has provided work for the down and out, including those who have taken some of the culinary classes they offer at a different address on Alberta. The restaurant is a part of a larger mentorship program called Teach Me to Fish, which offers culinary industry skills and work experience for Portland’s underserved youth.
Po’Shines is also black-owned in a neighborhood where the black population dropped 15 percent between 2000 and 2010, while its white population went up by 10 percent. Still, Po’Shines chef James Bradley doesn’t want to talk about gentrification. To him, it’s inevitable.
“It’s just one of those buzzwords,” he says, sitting out on one of the restaurant’s picnic tables. “It’s a growing neighborhood — People have to be displaced... The opportunity wasn’t here for the people who were here before.”
It’s nothing new to Bradley. While growing up along the East Coast, he remembers whole apartment buildings filled with people disappearing in a heartbeat. As a kid in North Carolina, he spent his time cooking with his mother and grandmother, partially because he kept getting in trouble and needed to be kept an arm’s length from adults. His passion for food grew from there, when he went to culinary school in Baltimore. After helping create the Burnside Skate Park, sleeping under the Burnside bridge while working on the project, he found Celebration Tabernacle and helped open the restaurant.
“When I got here, there were needles on the ground,” he says. “Without the church here, [Kenton] wouldn’t look as clean and inviting as it does now. I know, because we swept the streets every day.”
Po’Shines wasn’t always Po’Shines. In the ‘90s, Celebration Tabernacle pastor E.D. Mondainé founded a program that was specifically designed for talented and underserved members of his congregation, from kids on welfare to abuse survivors. A few years later, the church took over what is now Po’Shines to open Girl & Guy Fridays, a secretarial service meets coffee shop, which became Friday’s Espresso — both businesses taught job skills, offered those in need entry-level jobs, and offered partitioners a chance to pursue dreams of operating their own businesses. From there sprung Po’Shines, a Cajun and soul food restaurant, which eventually expanded into the cafe, Poshettes, and Po’Shines Catering and Culinary Clinic.
Bradley found the restaurant after overcoming some of his own challenges: While living on the East Coast, he says he was addicted to drugs and alcohol, deciding to move with a friend to Portland to help develop the skate park. After they helped finish the skate park, he spotted the refrigerators in the windows of Po’Shines and got inspired. He got sober, got involved with the church, and served as the opening chef and culinary guide for the restaurant.
The restaurant has now been open for more than a decade, and its trickle of regulars rolls through the day, from the smiling church ladies gathering for breakfast and charity organizing, to the young couples on lunch dates. “We are the guardians of this corner. We own it outright,” Bradley says. “That’s important for a black-owned business. Not renting — owning.”
The restaurant remains a staple and community meeting place, where people gather over catfish po’boys. To chef Bradley, Po’Shines’ role as an unofficial community center is emblematic of a daily dedication to God, something beyond Sunday service. “God said, ‘Feed my sheep,’” Bradley says. “What do you feed them? Goodness.”