Surely you’ve heard of Naomi Pomeroy. The scrappy, DIY Julia Child-turned-James Beard winner. The firebrand and supper club pioneer. For 18 years, we've watched and gossiped over every Pomeroy story: the rise and fall of her renegade Ripe restaurant group and its famed offspring, Clarklewis, which inspired more than one food lover to move to Portland circa 2004; the valiant battles on Iron Chef and Top Chef Masters; the climb of Beast as a sexy, rock 'n' roll, women-run bistro, on its own terms in a male-dominated food world. And recently, Naomi Pomeroy: national advocate for the survival of pandemic-wounded independent restaurants.
Now comes her next chapter. Beast went offline in March to weather the COVID-19 storm, and never reopened. Hell, how are you going to social distance in a 600-square-foot restaurant with only two communal tables? And Pomeroy, let it be said, was not born to put roast chicken in a curbside car trunk.
For months, she contemplated how to survive in a small space in Northeast Portland. Her conclusion: the restaurant model, always difficult, is all the more so now. Time for a project that looks forward at the home cooking revival and changing dining habits.
At November's end, Portland Monthly has learned, Beast will morph into a food market that fosters connections and cross-talk between shoppers and cooks. Think boutique deli meets chef's counter meets Mister Rogers factory tours, with a community vibe and local farm sourcing. When the doors reopen, instead of tables we'll spy shelves stocked with house-favorite wines and pantry items, just steps away from cooks working at a central butcher block table, extruding pasta and whipping up vinaigrettes for take-home salads. Scan the refrigerators along the back wall to find local and imported cheeses as well as seasonal prepared food to go—think homemade pastas, sauces, slow-cooked carrots, curry lamb shepherd's pie, and twice-baked potatoes whipped with smoked onion sauce.
Nearby, a vintage cabinet will hold four to six custard-based ice creams, churned in a massive Italian ice cream machine. For the base, Pomeroy tapped a recipe from cult pastry chef Claudia Fleming. Rich? The formula calls for 12 yolks per quart. I'm saying this now: I'll fight you over the first pint of Pomeroy's cannoli ice cream, a mix of mascarpone ice cream, pistachio butter swirl, and cannoli crumbles.
Somewhere in this room, we'll stumble on take-and-bake brioche cinnamon rolls, meant to be slathered, hot from your oven, with Pomeroy's vanilla bean cream cheese frosting.
Welcome to Ripe Cooperative. Yes, Pomeroy is reclaiming the name of her legendary restaurant group, founded with her impresario (and now ex) husband Michael Hebb, perhaps best remembered for his manifesto, “Kill the Restaurant.” Ripe once stood for Portland's new food revolution as well as youthful hubris. During its heyday, 2002-2006, Ripe put the city's rising independent food scene on the national map and unearthed a generation of talented chefs like Tommy Habetz and Gabriel Rucker.
“Listen,” she tells me, “I was 22 when we started Ripe in our basement. I've learned so much between then and now. I always loved that word. Ripe has an important place in Portland's food scene, all the amazing people who worked for us. I want to celebrate that history with a full-on reclamation of my contribution to that system. I'm just going to take it back. I'm owning that.”
In its new iteration, Ripe (like Beast) aims to support small farmers, cheesemakers, and other local purveyors. Additionally, all packaging will be reusable or compostable. The 'co-op' component refers to a philosophy and a mission to create more equitable work and pay structure for employees, including profit-sharing, benefits, and paid time off for all. That includes former Beast chef de cuisine Lucian Prellwitz, returning here as a partner. In a broken food service industry, it's an important direction. Another aspect: customers can join the co-op for early access to limited products and other perks.
Right now, Pomeroy is most excited about Ripe's “Dine In Menu Boxes”—four-course, restaurant quality, finish-at-home meal boxes, complete with a hand-drawn sketch of how to plate them. A few dishes will come with a quick and easy cooking lesson opportunity, via simple instructions and occasional access to video demos. Among the courses, you might find farm-fresh lettuce pre-washed alongside ready-to-assemble Parmesan-green peppercorn dressing, crouton wisps, and poached shrimp. “It will be restaurant shrimp, not grocery store shrimp,” emphasizes Pomeroy, author of Taste and Technique. “Restaurant shrimp is sooo different.” Or perhaps a filet mignon, packaged with detailed cooking instructions and everything you need to make a classic Béarnaise sauce, pre-measured. “People always ask me, ‘What's the secret to a great steak?,’” says Pomeroy. “It's pretty simple. We'll show you!”
Boxes will be available in the shop or online, and perhaps one day, available for shipping. Confesses Pomeroy: “I'd love to become the Harry & David of the meal box world. These aren't just 'heat 'n' serve,' like TV dinners. We want to give the tools, the easy techniques for better cooking. We want people to be heroes of their own space.”
Ripe Cooperative, tentatively opening Nov. 30
5425 NE 30th Ave; 503-841-6968
email: [email protected]