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The Restaurants and Carts That Stepped Up to Take Care of the Community

So many Portland food carts and restaurants, already struggling with the weight of the pandemic, chose to dedicate time and money to feeding food-insecure Portlanders, providing aid to Oregonians displaced by fires, and fighting for a more just food industry

Three customers wait at the bright-blue food truck Jojo, standing among orange cones on the pavement. They stand feet apart from each other, waiting for free fried chicken sandwiches.
Workers give away meals at Jojo
Molly J. Smith/EPDX

Per tradition, Eater Portland ends the year by reflecting on the last twelve months of dining in a series we call Year in Eater. We reach out to Portland food writers and influencers for their perspectives on major trends, impressive newcomers, and standout meals, and share their responses in a single package. Of course, 2020 was a historic and catastrophic year for the restaurant industry, so our questions this year hinge on that reality. Still, many wanted to celebrate the restaurants, chefs, and trends that really stepped up this year, and lament the restaurants lost to 2020. Look back on past years here.

If there was a feel-good story this year, it was one based on the people who used 2020 as an opportunity to make people’s lives better: The food carts who went out of their way to feed food-insecure Portlanders, the restaurants that donated portions of their already-reduced revenue to aid organizations, the chefs that rolled into fire-stricken communities and provided food and supplies, the restaurant owners that campaigned for better protections for workers and the industry as a whole. These are people who fought hard and made time to invest in their communities and their future, even when doing anything at all was challenging. Several people in the industry really proved themselves to be leaders this year, even if they worked behind the scenes; here, we chose to recognize a few of them.

“There were many. While the government entirely failed its people, restaurants — already suffering and on the verge of collapse — stepped up to feed people during the pandemic and the fires. The people most in danger of losing their business were still the ones loading up their food and delivering it to protestors, out-of-work industry people, the houseless, and just anyone who needed a meal. I could not be more impressed by the industry. Jojo, Kee’s Loaded Kitchen, Malka, Botanist, The Waiting Room, and Kim Jong Grillin’ are just a few who regularly gave away meals to people.” -Alex Frane, Eater Portland contributor

“Malka was a real role model this year. Two of their employees, Eli Goldberg and Adrian Groenendyk, created Crisis Kitchen early on in the pandemic to feed people who were food insecure, and they’re still going strong. During the wildfires, Malka owners Jessie Aron and Colin McArthur decided to temporarily close the restaurant for takeout while they teamed up with Feed the Mass and SnackBloc PDX to donate meals to wildfire evacuees. And on the restaurant’s Instagram feed, they frequently offer meals to food-insecure people thanks to pay-it-forward donations from customers.” -Katherine Chew Hamilton, Portland Monthly food editor

“Malka was one of the first restaurants I saw offer meals for those who couldn’t afford it. It was hugely inspirational to witness.” -Daniel Barnett, Eater Portland contributor

“Jojo. Justin literally gave away food to people who had lost their jobs or anyone really, and I was more than happy to donate to him whenever I could.” -Nick Woo, Eater Portland contributor

I think Jojo did an amazing job at supporting our community, especially industry workers who got laid off. They offered so much free food at the start of the pandemic, it was really inspiring.” -Seiji Nanbu, Eater Portland contributor

“Jojo PDX, with quite a few events in which either a percentage of the sales went to local causes, or the food was completely free for certain groups including laid-off service industry folks.” -Bill Oakley, television writer and Instagram influencer

“The 649 in Aloha dished out pint after pint of soup on a pay-what-you-can basis as a way to give back to the local community. They also continued to pay their employees throughout the shutdown period where other similar businesses were laying off workers.” -Ron Scott, Eater Portland contributor

I know I’m leaving out the work of a lot of people here, but I thought Feed the Mass stood out as a way food industry people helped out the community while their own businesses struggled.” -Christopher Bjorke, Portland Business Journal associate editor

Joey Chimko and Alder Suttles of Nonavo Pizza fed laid-off food industry workers, kids that weren’t getting food at school, frontline workers. It wasn’t part of some promotion or publicity stunt, they just wanted to serve the community. On Instagram, they constantly invited anyone that was struggling to come to their restaurant and get a pizza. Chimko’s Insta pep talks with their beat poet, stream of consciousness, Jersey Zen vibe helped many of us through some difficult times.” -Rachel Pinsky, Eater Portland and Columbian contributor

“I could talk about this all day, baby. Everyone mentioned above deserves a massive round of applause. I would also mention a few others: Carlos Lamagna and the “Wild Rice Boys” at Magna regularly prepared meals for frontline workers and food-insecure communities, while also donating portions of weekly sales to various aid efforts. The team at Red Sauce Pizza, which already has a history of fundraising for nonprofits, regularly donated funds to Kee’s Feeding Black Portland efforts, mentioned above, as well as other justice organizations. The folks over at Sammich raised funds for — and brought meals to — the people trying to survive the fires in Southern Oregon earlier this year. Nikeisha Newton of Meals4Heels prepared food for various mutual aid groups, sex workers, and protesters throughout the year. Trap Kitchen, Five & Dime, Paley’s Place, Pip’s Original, Bhuna, Matta, Gracie’s Apizza — the list is massive. It makes me proud to cover this community.” -Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Eater Portland editor

More Year in Eater [EPDX]