Life is Sweet on Dekum Street

 

As I transition out of Woodlawn Coffee & Pastry, I wanted to write a bit of their story. I also wanted to share some of mine, which is all sort of tangled up within this place. I think all good relationships get tangled, somehow.

But anyways, here we go:

I started at Woodlawn C&P out of a messy transition from another cafe in NW Portland. I needed a way out. Stumptown account man-at-large Skip Colombo told about this place opening up off of Dekum — that they were probably going to need some help with their coffee program. I was nerdy about coffee. I still am. Though I am not much a barista there as I am a cook (or the tall, quiet dude in the back who makes pickles and meatloaf.)

Along with Mica and Lauren, I was the third to be added onto the roster following the first week that Woodlawn opened. And you’ll still find Lauren around, playing cribbage, picking strings, and every so often a few shifts at Firehouse across the street. Mica is doin’ her thing up in her home state of Alaska.

The first time I walked into Woodlawn with my resume, I left discouraged because I figured that place was too good for me. The wood. The letters. The rustic americana fit in with my deeply southern roots. Not to mention, it was close to where I lived.

The day of dropping off my resume, I received a text from Skip saying, “Hey, Gretchen’s gonna call you and offer you the job!”

Boom.

And just like that, began my time at Woodlawn.

I worked on the coffee a lot. A lot…

We had a gigantic three-grouphead Simonelli that was Gretchen’s baby. All we served hot was quiche and toast. Remember those days? No breakfast plate. No meatloaf. Just toast. Pastries. Quiche. Maybe a soup, if we (and by we, I mean Gretchen) could get around to it.

I grew with the place. Developing skills and relationships. We got busier and busier. We started making food in the back. Screaming, “ONE PLATE!!” or “B&G!!”
We have never been very polished about transitions. It all just sort of…happens.

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I remember one day I was closing down the shop, and seeing Matthew from Firehouse with his feet propped up asleep on one couch, and Gretchen on the other side laying down, sleeping as well.

It was one of those moments that made me realize how much those kind of people put into a place. To say “blood, sweat, and tears” is not nearly enough. The industry is made up of people like this. People who want to give you a place to eat and drink. They want to show you their story through a pastry and cup of coffee on top of a table made of Redwood.

The building itself is old. Its bones crack as you pass through it. People who get it, get it.

It’s magic.

It’s always been magic to me.

But I left, to pursue cooking a bit more seriously.
I worked out in wine country at a place called Red Hills Market. If you’ve ever been wine tasting out in Dundee, I’m sure you’ve seen it.
I helped with their coffee program too. Learned some bits as a line cook, and helped manage their front of house. I also learned the art of standing on my feet for 10-12 hours a day.

Cooking is a different ballgame. Kitchen life is different than being able to wear a bow tie as a barista. (Not that I ever did..or ever will..)

It’s hot. You get burned. There’s always stuff to be cleaned. All the time. Cleaning. Cooking. Cleaning again.

But as it goes, I got a little burnt out and returned to Portland for work, landing into the graceful arms of The Arbor Lodge coffee shop. I was a barista again. For a little while.

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As some of you know, I reign from the deep South. Living in the Northwest, it was always important for me to celebrate Mardi Gras. Gretchen was kind enough to let me host it at Woodlawn a few years back and I’ve been doing it ever since. I was able to showcase some of the stuff I liked to cook, and felt I was getting pretty good at it. One night, she texted me, “We should talk about your future…”

We met up for beer. A few beers, actually. We caught up a bit, and she then told me about her plan to add a bar program at Woodlawn for the evening time. The OLCC requires that you serve food if you serve alcohol, at least in Multnomah County. Before she even offered me the gig, I was screaming, YES! in my head. She then said, “Well, would you like to come cook for us at night?” We cheers’ed our glasses and so began my stint as a cook at Woodlawn.

It was so nice to be back, and felt like I had never left.

All of us at Woodlawn have put in a lot more than just work. We all work really hard, and hope that you get to benefit from it. After all, that is the reason we do what we do. There is something powerful about a great cup of coffee, made just for you, or a pastry right out of the oven. When a plate of biscuits and gravy arrives steaming at your table, a lot of thought went into making it taste just right. We want it to taste like home. We want to find your sweet spot and allow you to indulge once in a while.

But as I process my time in Portland, I owe so much to this cafe. It gave me a sense of place when I was so far away from home. It gave me an outlet to serve my community, and to also make a living. I was spoiled to be given such an opportunity. The call home is just a bit stronger sometimes.

Thank you for letting me serve you, in some capacity, over the past three years.

I enjoyed getting to watch you and your kids grow. I’d like to think I had a small part in feeding all of their bellies, while also helping you get your caffeine fix when you’ve had a long night.

This is my last week cooking at Woodlawn, and if you happen to be around while I am there, I’d love to say hello and thank you.

Because often times, these places are big parts of our lives. Our connections are endless and our cups are full. I have always wanted to keep your cups full.

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Thank you to Gretchen, for giving me an opportunity to cook and to struggle. Thanks for teaching me how to scrub drains and sinks and how water is the enemy to a good pie crust. (And that it takes more than a day…)

Yes, thank you for making my life a little sweeter on Dekum Street.

-Josh