We hear the word “pivot” being tossed around with wild abandon these days, but few eateries in Portland made such a swift about-face as Submarine Hospitality Group's Ava Gene's and Tusk. On March 17, a day after Gov. Kate Brown’s mandate to close dine-in restaurants, chef-restaurateurs Joshua McFadden and Sam Smith were selling Ava Gene’s kale salad and tagliatelle ragu meal kits, Tusk grain bowls, and quarts of chicken stock out of a parking lot on SE Division Street. Fast thinking and a craveable larder paid off: the Tusk/Ava Gene’s/Cicoria (McFadden’s covert pizza operation) triumvirate has been going gangbusters since the pandemic started. Now, Submarine Hospitality is doubling down on the concept.
In an exclusive interview, McFadden tells Portland Monthly that a new marketplace, Shipshape Goods, will take the place of Southeast Portland’s Italian institution, Ava Gene's, starting June 2. The restaurant’s front doors will be converted into a walk-up window for ordering meals and goods to-go (those who are taking more extreme distancing measures can still order ahead and pick up in the parking lot). In addition to Submarine’s takeout offerings from the past two months—think four-cheese agnolotti and babka waffles—Shipshape will offer local and house-made pantry staples, like Ayers Creek jams and Briar Rose cheese. (“Things you would imagine from a very small Providore Market,” explains McFadden.)
The most exciting thing about this new “bodega”? The seafood-heavy sandwich program. Inspired by his time spent farming in Maine, McFadden has developed a nostalgic, New England-meets-coastal PNW menu of ten or so hoagies. Top of my list? Blackened King salmon marinated in yogurt and “secret spice,” iceberg lettuce, and brown butter mayo. Something called the Catamaran—dredged and fried hama hama oysters and shrimp dressed in remoulade and cocktail sauce—sounds pretty freakin’ good, too.
Shipshape is tailor-made for summer, with soda, cold brew, popsicles, house-made ice cream sandwiches (sweet cream gelato with the classic soft chocolate cookie exterior), and an in-the-works soft-serve setup. An outdoor seating area built with social distancing in mind will take up half of the Ava Gene’s parking lot for those who want to eat on-site (once Multnomah County enters Phase 1 reopening). “I’m gravitating towards nostalgic moments because I think that’s what we all really need right now,” says McFadden. “Not something cutting edge or esoteric, just ‘it’s a hot day; I’m going to the river with some sandwiches and a bottle of wine and find some peace.’”
As for the Ava Gene’s we all know and love? Submarine hopes to reopen the Italian stalwart somewhere down the line when it’s safe to do so. At that hypothetical point, Shipshape will need to find a new home, likely in Southeast. Tusk, meanwhile, is reopening on East Burnside sometime in mid-June as a standalone takeout operation; that means no flatbread and hummus at Shipshape’s takeout window.
“I think we responded really well with no-touch curbside pickup in our parking lot, but it hasn’t been this thing we love to do,” explains McFadden. “We’re starting to get back into the hospitality business, which makes us all feel really good. It’s why we all do it in the first place.”