In July, Portlanders will open a glass door on Northeast 42nd and enter a pink-and-green restaurant space filled with plants, Grimes playing on the speakers. They’ll sit down to meals of nettle gnocchi with green garlic and brown butter, pot roast with stone-ground grits, and koji-cured pork chop schnitzel. Nonalcoholic drinks will land in glassware next to cocktails, as dining room manager Eric Pavey talks through wine options or walks new parties to their tables.
This restaurant may feel a little familiar — it could be the country ham in the biscuits or the faces of the folks in the kitchen that harken back to the restaurant that was in the space before it. Still, this space is meant to be a fresh start. On June 26, Maya Lovelace will close her Southern restaurant Yonder to open Hissyfit, a restaurant experimenting with produce from Oregon and Washington farms. After a 2020 reckoning within the Portland restaurant world put Lovelace at the center of a debate on the role of a restaurant owner, the chef wants to step out of the spotlight and let her team explore new culinary territory. The goal is to create a restaurant that offers its staff and patrons a sense of freedom, and, in many ways, relief.
In 2015, Lovelace hosted her first Mae pop-up, a Southern tasting menu blending cooking traditions gleaned from her grandmother in North Carolina and the skills she honed working in restaurants like Beast and Husk. The pop-up gained popularity both locally and nationally, earning her a spot among the 2016 Eater Young Guns. In 2017, she announced plans to open a restaurant for Mae, as well as a more casual restaurant in the same space. In the spring of 2019, Lovelace opened her meat-and-three spot Yonder; Mae would operate in the back room, while Yonder served fried chicken and collard greens.
Within its first year open during the pandemic, the restaurant ended up looped into a large-scale discussion of inequities and mismanagement within the Portland restaurant world, in part because of a conversation Lovelace started on her Instagram. She offered to share the anonymous posts of restaurant workers being vocal about poor working conditions and bad actors in restaurants. It set off a chain reaction, with food service workers calling out celebrity chefs and award-winning restaurants. Soon, Lovelace ended up receiving her own set of criticisms from former co-workers and employees about her mismanagement of Yonder and allegations of its toxic workplace culture. For instance, in an Oregonian piece, former Yonder employee Nick Charles said he ended up in the hospital for a throat abscess, which he partially attributes to the restaurant’s 60-hour workweeks.
In the years following the reckoning and blowback she received, Lovelace spent time reflecting on improving the workplace culture at Yonder, as well as her relationships with her employees. She’s working with a smaller team — all of whom are working shorter, more manageable working days — to make sure she can stay on top of what’s happening within the restaurant and have daily conversations with each of her employees. “It’s been very difficult for me to come to terms with the fact [that] I’ve been responsible for hurting people’s feelings, or not being as receptive to feedback, or not making people feel safe enough to communicate with me,” Lovelace says.
Within the last two years, she’s had an opportunity to look at the restaurant she opened and reevaluate its overall concept. Lovelace and her team want to do something new, allowing other chefs and employees to take up more space within the restaurant. That something new is Hissyfit. The hope is that the restaurant will allow employees to collaborate on menu development and the work culture within the restaurant — to have more creative influence and control over the product. For employees like Kevin Jones, the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, the shift within the restaurant is palpable.
“I’m someone in recovery, right? I used to be a raging alcoholic, I’ve been someone who’s used meth, and I really believe in giving people the room to grow,” Jones says. “Maya and I have a really strong relationship where I feel like I can push back, where we can work together to create the work environment we all want to have.”
Part of that new working environment involves close collaboration, including on the menu, an amalgamation of dishes designed by both Lovelace and Jones. Jones spent time at Portland’s Xico and Seattle’s Sitka & Spruce before landing in the Yonder kitchen; here, the chef is digging into their own culinary past, in particular with the restaurant’s pot roast — something they ate growing up. “I grew up really poor, and my mom made recipes out of this book based around maximizing the amount of portions of food you get for the spending,” Jones says. “She would put a pot roast in a pot, fill the pot with water, put a bunch of tomato paste in there, and then we’d go to the movies.”
For Hissyfit, Jones seasons the pot roast aggressively, adds things like thyme and garlic, and lets the meat braise until the liquid becomes a smooth sauce. It lands in a bowl of grits, with different seasonal vegetables based on what comes in from Oregon farmers.
Jones’s childhood also inspired a dessert on the menu: an Amish butter popcorn sundae. As a kid, Jones would top vanilla ice cream with popcorn and Hershey’s syrup; at Hissyfit, Jones will steep cream with Anson Mills Amish butter popcorn, for an ice cream base. They then take the whey byproduct from the restaurant’s ricotta and reduce it to a caramel; that caramel coats more popcorn, becoming something akin to kettle corn that garnishes the ice cream. “It’s a more refined version of something I ate as a child that fits in the identity of what we’re going for with Hissyfit,” Jones says.
Echoes of Lovelace’s Southern culinary style will appear, too, from the buttered Carolina gold rice with confit chicken to the cornbread with mustard-chive butter, but it won’t grip so tightly to Southern and Appalachian tradition. “I’m really excited just to let this kind of stuff flow again, to have the capability to just cook for fun,” Lovelace says. “I want to cook food that makes you feel really, really good when you eat it. I’m excited to have the chance to do that.”
After Yonder closes in late June, the space will shift into Hissyfit, with new botanical wallpaper, a revised menu, and a more deliberate approach to incorporating employee input. In the days leading up to the reopening, the team will dig into produce from Pablo Munoz Farms, Vibrant Valley, and Flying Coyote, among other small nearby farms. The restaurant will reopen on July 6 with its new menu and name.
“It feels like opening a door of creativity, allowing us to explore a lot of things that we haven’t had the chance to explore,” Jones says. “I grew up having a lot of foods that I wished were better, so I’m really passionate about the idea of taking the foods that I had growing up and taking them where I knew they could be. This also opens up the door for essentially the whole staff to be contributors as well. Everybody gets to play much more.”
Hissyfit will open within the former Yonder space at 4636 NE 42nd Avenue, Suite A.