In 1984, Tory Campbell’s grandparents, Felton and Mary Campbell, made a decision that seemed puzzling to others at the time: They left their home in Oakland, California to retire in nearly all-white Southeast Portland. Finding that they wanted to keep busy during their retirement, they decided to open their own restaurant, Campbell’s Barbecue.
They built the restaurant near their house off 87th and Powell, where Campbell recalls being one of three Black kids in his elementary school. They planted a garden full of vegetables in their backyard—corn, collard greens, thyme—and raised chickens. His grandfather Felton, who grew up in Texas making barbecue, drew a design for the restaurant’s brick pit on a paper napkin, then had a Black stonemason build it for him. Felton would wake up early to drive out east to Damascus, Sandy, or Boring to chop fallen oak trees for the fire, then build a fire and begin the long process of smoking brisket, ribs, chicken, turkey, and homemade links for that day. The restaurant also employed lots of neighborhood teenagers, and Campbell was one of them.
“I didn't always appreciate smelling like smoked meats most days,” recalls Campbell. “But as I've gotten older, I look back and I appreciate it. You know, it taught me work ethic and taught me what it means to be a business owner. . . It was a bit of a community center for both folks of color because in Southeast Portland back then, we were kind of a rare bird.”
Campbell’s Barbecue was sold to new owners around fifteen years ago and closed around 2012. But the family retained the rights to the recipes, and in 2014, Campbell used those recipes to open his own business, Felton and Mary’s, selling the same barbecue sauces and dry rub his grandparents used to serve at Campbell’s Barbecue. (His brother Troy Campbell is also in the barbecue business; he owns a catering company called Troy’s BBQ in Salem.)
Their Texas-style spice rub is an alluring salty-sweet blend with hints of garlic, paprika, and cumin that could work equally well on brisket, chicken, or tofu. You can use the dry rub alone, or pair it with one of the three barbecue sauces. I’m most intrigued by the smokey brown sugar sauce, which Campbell describes as more of a Kansas City-style sauce, which combines tomato, molasses, brown sugar, and anchovy-based Worchestershire sauce. The medium-heat sauce, which Campbell refers to as “Oregon spicy,” is a Texas-style sauce accented with tamarind, cumin, and garlic; there’s also a hot version.
Decades after his grandparents’ passing, Campbell says Felton and Mary’s legacy is still remembered in the Portland community. At one farmers market, an older white man came up to the stand, which Campbell’s wife was running that day, and recalled his fond memories of Campbell’s Barbecue.
“He's like, ‘Tell your husband that his grandparents were amazing people, because they started this restaurant during the height of KKK and skinhead activity in Southeast Portland and here they go, creating a restaurant right in the middle of all that, and it really melted people's hearts and broke down a lot of barriers and helped to change a lot of people's perceptions of who black people were by just them being themselves,’” Campbell recounts.
Since he started Felton and Mary’s in 2014, Campbell has also added spicy pork and beef links to the lineup and has grown the business to local markets including New Seasons, Providore, Green Zebra, and Market of Choice, plus the Montavilla Farmers Market, the Portland Night Market, and a few grocery stores in the Bay Area.
What’s next for Felton and Mary’s? Aside from expanding the products into more California markets, Campbell also wants barbecue to get the recognition it deserves as a work of culinary art and hours-long labor of love. Recently, the brand paired up with Brooks Wine in Amity for a wine tasting webinar, where the winery suggested riesling, pinot, and white wine pairings to go with a Felton and Mary’s barbecue chicken recipe; now, Campbell wants to go back to barbecue for a live event at the winery.
“It could be really fun to just expand how people think about barbecue,” says Campbell. “Its roots often derived from slavery…and some 100 years later, this is considered a higher-end meal these days. " He says a lot of thought went into the branding with this in mind.“When you eat barbecue, it's usually this cartoon chicken pig and cow, and it's country, and that's totally fine. It’s put on paper plates, and it's just served up as is and that's some of the beauty of it," he says.“But in there, there's a real refined skill set that has been cultivated. And so I wanted to make sure we… honor that tradition, particularly [because] Black cuisine in our country doesn't always receive that level of kind of elevated awareness and appreciation.”