When Kelsey Glasser, the owner of Pearl District wine bar and restaurant Arden, first came up with the idea for her vegetable-centric bowl shop Wild Thing, she had one person in mind: Sam Smith, the then-chef de cuisine at Tusk, known for his elaborate meze, salads, and hummus. “I’ve been thinking about this concept since early 2019 and was in talks with a couple developers back then, but it wasn’t fully formed,” Glasser says. “Sam was always my dream person for the role, but he was at Tusk... I was sifting through options, and then during the pandemic everything was tabled.”
When a developer reached out to Glasser again, a year later, she realized that Smith was now a free agent. When she pitched him the idea, he was quickly on board. “He has all these connections to amazing local farms, but he’s also a really talented chef,” she says. “A lot of people shy away from plant-based cooking because they see it as boring. They haven’t had really well seasoned vegetables.”
When Wild Thing opens early this summer, it’ll be something like a high-quality Sweetgreen: Customers will choose from base options like greens, rice, or quinoa, and then build bowls based on an assortment of seasoned and roasted vegetables, fermented produce, and pickles, as well as house dressings and proteins like Squirrel and Crow tempeh. The options will change seasonally, dependent on local farmers and open to Smith’s creative whim. The grab-and-go area will have some pre-made bowls with combinations Glasser and Smith love, but generally, customers are meant to design the bowls the way they’d want to enjoy them.
Outside of the bowls, the cafe will focus on breakfast and lunch, with a few seasonal smoothies and things like overnight oats and chia pudding available in the morning. Alongside the lunchtime bowls, Wild Thing will have a few warm items like broths and curries, as well as Oregon wines canned special for Wild Thing. “We think most people will be doing grab-and-go, so we went, ‘What’s a cool way to highlight local winemakers?’” Glasser says. To start, she’s doing a dry white and a juicy, chilled red from a to-be-revealed local wine producer; she thinks, depending on the success of the first round, she’ll start to highlight a rotating selection of Oregon vineyards and wineries.
Glasser refers to the restaurant as plant-based, which generally means that it avoids meat and dairy; the shop will have eggs and honey available, however. “Sam and I, neither of us are vegan or fully plant-based, but we both really agree with the ethos,” Glasser says. “The biggest thing we want to get across is that we want to make plants fun or make them accessible to everyone. We’re not trying to lecture anyone; we want people to feel empowered to nourish themselves and the land around them.”
Wild Thing will open on 1477 NE Alberta, Unit 100, in the Bezel building.
• Wild Thing [Instagram]