As the second wave of the #BlackLivesMatter movement surges on full-force—and while Multnomah County waits to be able to re-open restaurants and bars to dine-in seating until at least June 19—Portland’s Black-owned businesses are seeing a spike in their take-out traffic. Here’s how three of them are using the opportunity to give back.
The amazing origin story has been well documented: Trap Kitchen food truck began in Compton in 2013 when Malachi "Chef Spank" Jenkins and Roberto "Sous Chef News" Smith, two young Black men who were affiliated with opposing street gangs, joined forces. Spank, a Crip, took his passion for cooking to Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, and, after forging a best friendship with News, a Blood—something that was virtually unheard of at the time—the two decided to do something better for themselves and their community, bringing people together at their underground food truck. With a menu that’s updated and managed on Instagram, Trap Kitchen became wildly popular among LA locals, including a slew of celebrities such as Kendrick Lamar, Ice Cube, Kobe Bryant, SZA, and Laila Ali, and more.
The Portland truck, opened in 2018, is located on NE 82nd and run by Chef Spank and Mikey Vegaz. (Many know Vegaz for making music and frequently performing in the city’s hip-hop scene.) When asked what made him fall in love with Portland and decide to open a Trap Kitchen here, Spank says that in addition to having family here, it was “definitely the food scene and the way it was just something different from what I was used to [in Los Angeles].”
On a recent visit to snag one of Trap Kitchen’s iconic, overflowing pineapple bowls, they were slammed.
“When we can’t do nothing but get some food, our cart is kind of like a landmark in Northeast Portland and just a place where people can get outside the house,” Spank says. “People who don't feel like cooking can come get food… It just brought a lot of traffic to the truck. That went for all of our locations that we have—business has kind of spiked up since the pandemic.”
Last Saturday the truck partnered with Portland-raised rap star Aminé, who bought out the entire truck so Black Portlanders and Black Lives Matter protesters could eat for free. Trap Kitchen then matched Aminé‘s donation by making double the food and donating all of it. But selling out and giving back is nothing new for Trap Kitchen, and in fact, it’s what it’s founded on.
“That's one of the things that Spank takes pride in doing is giving back to [the Black] community all over the country,” Vegaz says.
Most recently, Spank donated several hundred meals to nurses and medical staff at Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital, a well known hospital in Compton, Los Angeles. “Right before we fed the people with Aminé, we were out in the midst of the Knickerson Garden projects feeding people in the community,” says Vegaz. “That’s what we do.”
In addition to Trap Kitchen, Aminé also bought out Kee’s Loaded Kitchen food cart on NE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard last weekend, donating more than$2,000 so chef/owner Kiauna “Kee” Nelson could feed Black Portlanders her ample portions of comfort food for free. As Kee continued to update Instagram, her customers and supporters took Amine’s example as a challenge—masses of donations piled in to her Venmo account (@KeesLoadedKitchen) to assist with Kee’s mission of #feedingBlackPortland. Despite heavy rain, folks showed up in droves last Saturday, scrambling to secure a parking spot, and lining up down the block for one of Nelson’s signature loaded mac ’n’ cheese platters.
I can’t say enough good things about Nelson’s cooking. In fact, Nelson’s been so slammed with business (and press inquiries), she didn’t have time to be interviewed for this piece. In an email, Nelson tells me she’s serving Black folks (and hungry allies) for free again this weekend. My advice: Bring a face covering and an umbrella!
Everybody Eats PDX
Johnny Huff Jr. started Everybody Eats back in 2016, but he and co-owner Marcell Goss haven’t yet thrown their grand opening for their comfort food counter and catering business, now located inside the Oriental Food Value market on 172nd and Powell. Although both Goss and Huff Jr. grew up in North and Northeast Portland respectively, and both attended the Oregon Culinary Institute, they didn’t meet until the two were hired for a gig in 2018.
“We actually partnered with Dame Lillard’s chefs for an event,” Marcelle says. After working the event, the two built a solid working relationship, and then began cooking together for [Trail Blazers] players.
“We just kinda had the same vision, and ever since then it’s just been me and Johnny, Everybody Eats.”
“In the midst of what’s going on we wanted to kind of find something to do. And we are chefs,” Goss says. [Teressa Raiford] reached out and said she wanted to feed the protesters, and we actually kind of agreed with that, you know: Feed the people that’s out there actually fighting.”
With roughly 50 leftover plates from the day, Everybody Eats PDX delivered the meals downtown and fed the marching protesters. And the business is now giving back in their own, more permanent way as well.
“When we partnered with Don’t Shoot Portland, a lot of people came to get food, even the next day to get food. So then Johnny just kinda said on Wednesdays now, on top of our menu, we’re just gonna do a free item every Wednesday. Because Don’t Shoot Portland just kinda opened our eyes to some needs in the community and people, so every Wednesday we’re gonna put something together that’s actually good, not just some peanut butter and jelly but like today we did seafood chowder.”
From its graffiti-clad corner of the Asian market, the food counter regularly serves up Philly cheesesteaks, Po’ Boy sandwiches, rotating seafood and soul food specials, and a popular Saturday brunch boasting a bevy of cheese grits. On Fridays, kids eat for free.
“I just hope after it’s not a movement, and after it’s not a trendy thing, that people still support us, man…. We have been seeing an increase in traffic, but we just don’t want it to be like ‘Oh, I came thru just to support you guys and to say, ‘Hey.’’ Even though we like that, we're actually into building relationships. I don’t want to just sell you a sandwich, I want you to understand who we are and why we do food and it’s just kind of our way out, too. Food is our conversation starter, to have these types of interviews. Because two years ago, wasn’t nobody sitting down talkin’ to us.”