Think joining the grocery shelf ranks of Portland’s food artisan elite—with its charcuterie, makrut-lime nut butters, and smoked paprika chocolate bars—is hard? Imagine trying to get a foot in the door as an immigrant who might speak little English.
Making the leap easier is one aim of Portland Mercado. The Foster-Powell-area Latino marketplace hosts food cart vendors hailing from Haiti to Colombia, produce and meat markets, a coffee shop, and an “old world” cantina. Plus, twice a year, its Business Foundations Boot Camp guides both people of color and immigrant entrepreneurs through the logistic and linguistic maze of Portland’s hypercompetitive retail food product scene.
Organized by the Mercado’s Empresarios business-advising program, the free, three-week bilingual crash course—which includes live interpretation services in English and Spanish—outlines everything from product development to sales, and even brings in potential grocery store buyers.
“Pretty much the entire ecosystem of services and sales that entrepreneurs need to navigate comes to [the boot camp to] share information,” says Portland Mercado director Shea Flaherty Betin.
Now in its third year, the Mercado’s boot camps have helped more than 100 entrepreneurs, but only a few have made it to major markets. Here are three finds from the Mercado’s food incubator, all well worth adding to your shopping cart.
Our favorite blend from longtime local DJ Klavical is the Lucha Libre, a sophisticated, smoky blend that packs a punch (but not a blow) to the palate. Sweet carrots and a biting apple cider vinegar base help cut the otherwise harsh habanero heat. The versatile condiment can be mixed into anything from a michelada to mac and cheese. $7.99 at Market of Choice and Timberline Lodge airport gift shop
Mathilde’s Kitchen Roselle Ginger Brew
Perfected at Haiti native Mathilde Aurelien Wilson’s Mercado food cart, Mathilde’s Kitchen, this juicy hibiscus brew bursts with cinnamon sweetness, fresh, spicy ginger, and tangy floral notes. The potent concoction—accurately summed up by one PoMo staffer as “Christmas in a glass”—pairs well with sparkling water or rum. $4.99 at New Seasons
The bright Radishes Pico, from salsa maestra Telma Caravantes, adds color, mellow tang, and an awesomely crunchy texture to just about anything. Also amazing: the slightly picante Salsa Verde, with generous chunks of avocado and a buttery texture. It’s aces over eggs.$5.99 at New Seasons, Market of Choice