Most weekends at the soul food cart Kee’s Loaded Kitchen see lines before it before it even opens its window. From Thursday to Sunday, customers line up for whatever dishes owner and chef Kiauna Nelson, better known as “Kee,” has made that day — often smoked brisket, fried chicken, mac and cheese, fresh bread, loaded baked potatoes, and desserts. Each meal goes out in a bag and is enough to feed multiple people. “My food cart is not street food, we sell full dinners that are comfort food with dessert, drinks, fresh made bread... it’s why Loaded is called Loaded,” Nelson says. For the day’s menu, visitors can head to the cart’s Instagram page, where the day’s offerings are posted along with photos of owner Nelson and her family.
But in a weekend marked by mass protests over the killing of George Floyd and America’s history of police violence and enduring racism, that Instagram page — one of the most popular restaurant accounts in town with nearly 40,000 followers — was filled with the photos and names of black Portlanders killed by police, as well as messages from Nelson about the protests and state of the country. And almost 60 visitors to her cart on Sunday, May 31 received $25 off their bills — often making it free — thanks to donations from community members including a $1,000 donation from Portland mayoral candidate Teressa Raiford and her nonprofit activist group Don’t Shoot Portland.
Don’t Shoot Portland has a strong connection to Kee’s Loaded Kitchen, who has catered a number of Don’t Shoot events. “We work with people from our community, and she is a representative of that community,” Raiford says. “I wanted to uplift people and just thank them, especially the youth that’s showing up. She makes a lot of people food, her food is amazing, she supports a lot of our causes.”
After Nelson posted about the donation on her Instagram page, she started to get more donations from regular customers and others. In addition to being able to provide even more discounted meals on Sunday, she was able to raise enough money for an event on Friday she’s calling Feed Black Portland, where every meal going out will be paid for. “Just today and yesterday we received $2,000,” Nelson says. “We’re probably around $300 or $500 shy of letting the whole day be free, but I think it’s going to happen.”
The meal will be first come, first serve, and all will be welcome, she says. “I feel like a lot of white people in the community want this to go to black people, and we’re going to honor that. But if hungry white person comes to the window, we’re going to feed them.”
For Nelson, it’s a way to thank the community and for her to work and help people when she’s overwhelmed by everything. “I wanted to thank everyone for finally speaking out and not being quiet. Your silence is no longer golden: your voice is. We can definitely eliminate more brutality, we can save lives as long as we stick together, unite, and work hard,” she says. “We can’t let the police keep murdering us and sit back and say it’s okay. It’s unacceptable. We’re not going to get any progress done unless we all unite and speak together. At the end of the day we’re all the same, we’re all human beings.”
Those wanting to donate to Kee’s Loaded Kitchen can visit her Instagram page for details on Venmo and CashApp information. Kee’s is located at 3625 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.
• Kee’s Loaded Kitchen [Instagram]
• Portland Restaurant Owners Stand in Solidarity with Protesters, Black Lives Matter [EPDX]