As the nightly Portland protests against police brutality and systemic racism — and the violent police response that greets them — stretch into their second month, a number of Portlanders have stepped up to feed protestors, including mutual aid kitchen Riot Ribs and cooking instructor Jacobsen Valentine. This weekend, they’re joined by chef and restaurateur Edward Lee, a four-time James Beard Award nominee with restaurants in Kentucky, Washington DC, and Maryland, who has teamed up with local barbecue restaurant Smokehouse Tavern to give out 100 free meals a night for three nights.
When Lee saw what was happening in Portland in recent days, with federal officers coming to town to help “quell” the protests, as President Trump described it, he reached out to his friend BJ Smith, co-owner and chef of Smokehouse Tavern. Lee offered to pay for meals for protestors through the LEE Initiative, his multi-faceted nonprofit organization that works to provide relief and build equity in the service industry. “Everything going on in Portland has gripped the world,” Lee says. “We love the city and it’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening. Our impact is only through food, but we have found that in the past four months of doing relief kitchen work and feeding frontline workers and protestors that these gestures go a long way and show solidarity and support.”
Together with his business partner Matt Green, Smith closed up Smokehouse Tavern for the weekend to focus on the meal packs. Each one contains smoked chicken, barbecue sauce, macaroni salad, and a bottle of water. On Friday and Saturday, Green and his team plan to distribute the food through Riot Ribs, who has been supporting protestors for weeks now. “We’re doing whatever we can to help,” says Green. “Wherever there’s a need I’ll make sure the food gets distributed. If we have leftovers we’ll go to houseless camps.”
On Monday, Green plans to offer the meals at a vigil held by local advocacy group Don’t Shoot PDX. The vigil commemorates TeTe Gulley, a Black trans woman whose death a year ago was ruled a suicide, but has received renewed attention in the form of nearly a million signatures demanding her case be reopened and investigated.