Wes Lambeaux and Elliott McDaniel sure know how to debut a pop-up with a bang. Last April, instead of Vietnamese banh mi and pandan whoopie pies, customers visiting Mama Đút encountered glittery pink streamers, an oversized Britney Spears “Oops!... I Did It Again” poster, and a pink Barbie Corvette decorated with heart-shaped holographic stickers with sayings like “Eat pussy, not animals!” The two Ken dolls seated in the vintage toy convertible were meant to represent Lambeaux and McDaniel, the chefs behind Daddy’s Vegan Wangz and Rangz.
Portland’s new vegan smash burger and wings pop-up is a nonstop ’90s-themed party, celebrating the music and culture of that era. Lambeaux and McDaniel sling $5 smash burgers, tangy barbecue wings, thick-cut onion rings with glitter ketchup, gluten-free gator bites with garlic-mustard aioli, and Power Ranger-themed lemonades, while Daddy’s Y2GAY playlist of ’90s R&B and pop hits pumps in the background. The vegan comfort food at Daddy’s is certainly a major draw, but what the chefs set out to create is bigger than that — it’s the experience of a “Barbie Hooters for queer people in the summer of 1990,” McDaniel says, and a way of loudly and proudly representing themselves. “With the name Daddy’s, we wanted to be very us,” he says.
Daddy’s “wangz” share a familiar foundation to many vegan wings: They use soy protein as a base, wrapped around a sugarcane bone. It’s Lambeaux’s sauces that really set Daddy’s wings apart from others — sweet-and-savory ginger teriyaki, smoky Southern hickory barbecue, raspberry bourbon chipotle, lemon pepper, and extra spicy mango habanero. Drumsticks arrive thoroughly coated in sauce or as dipping sauces for Daddy’s Naked Flight. Eating the drumsticks is messy business, as Lambeaux says he makes the sauces thick, like what one might find in Texas and Tennessee, where he and McDaniel are from, respectively. They also have fun with over-the-top specials, like this month’s Buffy garlic buffalo parmesan drumsticks, drizzled with black truffle oil and dusted with edible glitter.
Although the drumsticks are a major part of Daddy’s menu, the $5 vegan smash burger is another hit among regulars. It comes with a well-seasoned Beyond meat patty with crispy edges and Daiya cheddar slice on a Franz bun. What ties it all together is the slathering of Daddy sauce — a sweet-and-tangy Thousand Island-style sauce that Lambeaux has been working on for years.
The chefs say they were drawn to the $5 promise at MidCity Smash Burger and were a bit disappointed that the vegan burger was almost twice the price. That’s what inspired Daddy’s to create a vegan smash burger that’s equally as accessible and satisfying. “Vegan food has a reputation of being expensive — of course it can be — but we wanted to make this tasty, nostalgic, warm, gooey burger for only five bucks,” McDaniel says.
When Lambeaux and McDaniel moved to Portland from Los Angeles in the summer of 2021, they were immediately infatuated with Portland’s vegan food scene. Both are avid home cooks, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that the two really honed their culinary skills. When the chefs were invited to a Friendsgiving potluck, they left it to the last minute to shop and couldn’t find any vegan holiday roasts. They settled for soy drumsticks and made the first iteration of Daddy’s ginger-teriyaki and lemon-pepper sauces. On the walk home from Friendsgiving dinner, where the drumsticks were a huge hit, the couple asked themselves, “what if we leaned into this more?”
Taking inspiration from Pinky Cole of Slutty Vegan in Atlanta, Lambeaux and McDaniel started posting photos of their food on Instagram, with the hope it might help them make connections within the food community. Mama Đút owner Thuy Pham offered the chefs her Vietnamese cafe as a venue, which led to Daddy’s first pop-up in April 2022. Over the next year, Daddy’s made appearances around town at other vegan standbys, including Mis Tacones, Cultured Kindness, and Epif.
The Daddies attribute their success so far to the support of Portland’s vegan community. Based on the couple’s past experiences, including an attempt at launching a vegan bakery concept, he says Los Angeles is inspiring when it comes to aesthetic and style, but more competitive in some ways. Portland, on the other hand, is a city where everyone wants to thrive, while uplifting each other. “Only in Portland will a James Beard-nominated chef invite you to pop up at their restaurant,” McDaniel says.
Lambeaux and McDaniel are grateful to the restaurants who have hosted their pop-up and customers who have dropped by for burgers and wings — but this is only the beginning for Daddy’s. “We just started this on Instagram with no real plan or idea of what it will become,” McDaniel says. “It’s so inspiring, humbling, and awesome to be able to live this dream.”
Daddy’s next pop-up is at Epif on March 20. Follow Daddy’s on Instagram for updates.