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Colin Smith sits in front of a plate of food.
Colin Smith.
Courtesy of Paulina Solis

Portland Remembers Beloved Ox Server Colin Smith, Dead at 32

Friends and colleagues knew Smith as a loving caretaker and passionate aspiring restaurant owner

Brooke Jackson-Glidden is the editor of Eater Portland.

Colin Smith — loyal Ox server, Baby Doll Pizza alumnus, and aspiring restaurant owner — died earlier this month, stabbed outside a Portland bar in the early hours of Sunday, July 2. Smith, who was with Portland restaurant industry workers in the hours before his death, was killed while defending a friend, according to multiple people present. Portland police have arrested a suspect for Smith’s murder.

When reflecting on Smith’s life, the Ox employee’s colleagues, friends, and employer are quick to share his unrelenting dedication to service, both in his work and in his relationships. The Salt Lake City native kept the cooks stocked with ice water throughout the night. He would cover the last table of the evening on a regular basis, so others could leave early. He went out of his way to serve employees’ families when they visited the restaurant, and treat them with special care. Beyond his work, he was a lover of animals (particularly his cat, Smokey), cooking, and the outdoors.

Below, we compiled the memories and perspectives of those who knew Smith, both in the restaurant and outside of it. The team at Ox has organized a GoFundMe to support Smith’s family; those who knew Smith can share a memory with his friends and family via a memorial website. Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Before he started at Ox, he started to work on a business plan for a restaurant. He was always taking mental notes when he was in the kitchen, how he would want his kitchen to be, thinking of different recipes. He wanted to get one of those double-decker red buses, make it a steak and frites place with rotating appetizers or desserts or drinks. The top part would be the tables, the bottom would be the kitchen, and he’d have an outdoor patio with a projector and lights. He had big plans, he was definitely going to do something incredible.” — Paulina Solis, ex-girlfriend and close friend

“Colin was one of the hires when we reopened after the pandemic; he applied to be a cook here. We spoke, and I thought to myself, ‘Man, he’s really easy to talk to, he just seems very fun and nice, I think he’d be a better fit for front of house.’ He was actually happy about it. He became one of our best employees pretty quickly.” — Greg Denton, Ox co-owner

“On my first day, Colin was the first person to walk up to me and introduce himself. Immediately feeling that sense of compassion in Colin, right off the bat, it really just had such a huge effect on me in such a positive way.” — Mark Knudsen, Ox general manager and wine director

He was always the first person to be like, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Are you in the weeds? You need help, what do you need?’” — Devin Lee, fellow Ox server and friend

He was the guy that made every situation more enjoyable, whether it be work or a party. His laugh was beautiful and contagious.” — Andrew Moore, Ox bartender

“Before my accident, we’d go to the park, play frisbee, do outdoor Portland things. I’m a recent amputee, and he was so inclusive, trying to get me out of the house, to get us where we were. He was always going out of his way for his friends and his family. I felt like he was my brother.” — Chris Schlenker, roommate and close friend

“In 15 years of working in restaurants, never have I seen an employee with such compassion for not only his colleagues, but his colleagues’ families. Everybody who set foot in the restaurant, he’d drop whatever he was doing to make sure everybody was taken care of on any given night.” — Mark Knudsen

“Colin was one of the most genuine, kindhearted, loving souls I’ve ever met. He was just so easy to connect with. He truly saw people for who they are. He really wanted to know who people were. When he met people, he really took time to get to know them, to truly connect with them.” — Paulina Solis

“He would make you feel welcomed immediately. Even if you were the worst person any of us had ever met, he would find something good about you; he’d try to break down those walls you had put up.” — Devin Lee

“He made sure that everything that he did during the night was thinking of others. I have a post in the kitchen, where I sort of scrape the plates. Every time he was there, he’d say, ‘Appreciate you, chef.’” — Greg Denton

“Before every shift, one of the cooks will cook a family meal, and we all sit down and eat before we go through the day. Colin volunteered one day and cooked a family meal for everybody. It was damn good, I’ll tell you that.” — Mark Knudsen

Colin’s absolute passion was making food for people, bringing people together through food. He was notorious for throwing dinner parties at his house, and anyone was welcome — my friends, his friends, he just wanted to feed people.” — Paulina Solis

“He was quick to tell you he loved you, all the time. He said it to all the guys at Ox. It would catch them off-guard. That was just Colin; he just loved.” — Devin Lee

“He was really good about checking in with the people he loved consistently. He made it a habit to call me right before work, right after work — just to say hello, I love you. Whether we were together, having a hard time, when we were just friends, he never left without saying I love you.” — Paulina Solis

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