Erica Montgomery, the chef and proprietor of Northeast Portland foodstuff cart Erica’s Soul Foods, has a fantasy: In a cafe area crammed with persons, Prince’s “International Lover” begins enjoying on the speakers. She techniques out, dressed head-to-toe in Prince drag. She breaks out into track, though her regulars and newcomers roll their eyes with a chuckle.
“I visualized this scene, the place every person is owning a good time and persons are heading, ‘What the fuck is wrong with her?’” she claims.
Montgomery has required to open her individual area given that she began her meals cart, initially posted up outside a benefit retail outlet on Southeast 82nd. It is a prevalent trajectory: Numerous Portland food stuff carts have reworked into dining establishments, from well-known Portland chains like Lardo to 38 stalwarts like Gracie’s Apizza. But what Montgomery envisions for her Juke Joint is more than a cafe — alternatively, her position would serve as a larger local community room, with reside songs and gatherings and fundraisers.
“I genuinely want this place to feel like an working experience,” she claims. “I want you to sense like you’re in my grandparents’ den. You are invited to the top secret speakeasy for the night.”
Erica’s Juke Joint would be element restaurant, aspect audio venue, routinely web hosting situations and pop-ups. A modest stage in the corner would host folks like her father, a touring musician who largely performs on Carnival Cruise ships. The kitchen would churn out her finest hits, as properly as fried hen and experimental dishes she has not been equipped to try out out on the cart. She’d bake treats making use of spouse and children recipes — factors like cinnamon rolls and yeast rolls — to elevate dollars for causes and corporations she cares about. And she would regularly host pop-ups for smaller-scale businesses and other Black cooks one of the occasions she wants to host initial is a large-scale, collaborative dinner with a amount of Black Portland cooks. But additional than that, Montgomery desires Erica’s Juke Joint to be a protected place, both of those in conditions of customers, staff members, and the group at significant.
“Down in Georgia, we have these fuel stations identified as QuikTrip they are a safe and sound space,” she suggests. “It’s very well regarded in the metropolis that if you’re in hazard, if you are hungry, if you will need help, you can go to a Quiktrip. I want this place to be like that, you can occur below if you require help.”
Opening her individual position is additional than just a stage for individual advancement for Montgomery she sees it as an act that especially problems gentrification and Black displacement in Portland. She’s precisely searching for a house in the location in which her cart is currently stationed, the space of North and Northeast Portland once recognized as a mainly Black neighborhood. Growth tasks like the Memorial Coliseum, the I-5 expansion, and Legacy Emanuel medical center displaced Black Portlanders in the Albina neighborhoods all over the 20th century, and businesses like Really do not Shoot Portland and Equitable Supplying Circle have actively prioritized reclaiming and obtaining house in individuals parts. Montgomery says she’s employed community leaders like Teressa Raiford as a design.
“I’d like my company to be in a predominantly Black space, and then purchase up as much residence as I can in these parts to fill them with additional Black-owned businesses, individuals in common,” she claims. “I want to get up space in conditions of keeping a ton of serious estate. My record and the factors I have professional, it is been super crucial to me to share parts of myself, to give individuals a little something to establish with. … I want to remind folks, it’s attainable.”
Montgomery is at the moment boosting funds to fund the Juke Joint, but hopes to open up up by the winter season. “At the starting of the following year, I want to be dressed as Prince hitting the flooring,” she states. “I want to give us anything to do when it is all cold and rainy. We’re on a time clock below.”