Yes, Pix Patisserie is Closing. That Doesn't Mean It's Going Away
For over two decades, Cheryl Wakerhauser’s Pix Pâtisserie has supplied sweet-toothed Portland Francophiles with “real-deal” French pastries: macarons—before their rise to ubiquity (“no one knew what they were”)—and just-set custards in terra-cotta cazuelas have stocked her pastry case in various locations.
But Wakerhauser has always served up more than just pastries. Yes, there’s a reputable wine list, tapas, and vibes galore at Pix, but all of this coalesces into its own little world. Pix is greater than the sum of its parts—and the parts are pretty damn good.
Because we refer to born-and-raised Portlanders with phrases like “one of those rare unicorns,” many have not been around for the entire Pix story. While we gather this is not the end of Pix, it is a marked turning point. As it heads into hibernation (while keeping its vending machines stocked 24-7) and Wakerhauser takes off for some clarifying world travel, the time seemed ripe for a look back.
Pix began, like many of the best in Portland’s food community, at the Portland State University Saturday farmer’s market. The business Wakerhauser started when she was 25 has grown with her—and Portland—through the rise of the hipster; the foodie revolution; several cycles of baggy and tight pants wavering in and out of style and back again. Post farmer’s market stall, Wakerhauser first set up shop on North Williams Street, an ambitious dream founded on credit cards. The self-described “quirky” spot laid roots for what has now become a food-lover's haven in North Portland, including the likes of Eem, XLB, and Vietnamese new-comer, Lúa. And for the last 21 years, Pix has perpetually iterated on itself.
In 2012, things got a bit more serious. When moving into the current, Burnside location, Wakerhauser made a deal with herself: “If I'm going to do a full build-out on this, I’ve gotta use it for 10 years. And so, the day I opened the door here, [I said to myself] ‘we'll do this for 10 more years, and then we're done.’” And she’s keeping her word—sort of (“I’ll get bored if I ‘retire-retire’”).
The pandemic brought a new frisson—the Pix-O-Matic. “It’s a Shoppertron 431,” she says. The 24-hour, refrigerated vending machine stocked with her classic French pastries was an idea that sat dormant in the back of Wakerhauser’s mind for years. COVID-related labor shortages brought the whimsical venture to fruition, to great fanfare: “It cost me $3,400 and it paid for itself in three days,” she says. And like everything Wakerhauser does, the Pix-O-Matic was never just about food. Along with your macaron fix, you can grab everything from a rubber chicken to a French beret, a tin of smoked Spanish mackerel or a French saucisson; this week, a Golden Girls mug could be spotted circling around in the refurbished vintage machine.
Like many in show business, Wakerhauser has long spoken of stepping back: “If you know me, this is no surprise.” On August 22, she will (officially) retire. In keeping with the Pix legacy, there will be many a soirée leading up to her last day: there are still seven “Movies at Dusk” to attend—ticketed ($8), beer and cider garden screenings of classics like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and the finale, Amélie, which lends its name to the patisserie’s signature dessert. (That latter screening is rightfully, but unfortunately, already sold out, but you can still get your hands on an “Amélie,” a chocolate mousse and orange crème brûlée mashup, garnished with caramelized hazelnuts and praline crisp.)
On the last three Fridays in August, Bar Vivant, the adjoining tapas bar, will host ticketed ($18), live flamenco performances.
The now internet-famous Pix-O-Matic will live on in the hands of Katie Roberts, Wakerhuser’s right hand for the past five years. Wakerhauser will retain ownership of the business, but is stepping away from daily operations to make up for lost overseas traveling time during the pandemic. Special orders will also still be available by request, except for wine, for the time being. (“Because I can’t sell wine from a vending machine,” says Wakerhauser.) She is adamant, too, that there is no going-out-of-business sale: “I would not be retiring if I couldn’t afford it. I made a lot of money on the Pix-O-Matic and I'm going out with my cellar—unless you want to come buy it before I retire.”
Looking forward, Wakerhauser has plans to open a French pastry school of sorts. Pix has always hosted cooking classes, but Wakerhauser wants to lean in. Details are slim, but Pix’s next iteration is aimed at passing along the skills Wakerhauser learned from Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF) pastry chefs (these are the fancy French chefs that sport hard-earned red, white, and blue collars) that kicked off Pix all those years ago. “What I was doing 20 years ago was not here,” says Wakerhauser. And while macarons might be a dime a dozen today, Pix has been, and continues to be, one of Portland’s most distinctive pastry destinations. Get there before the au revoirs.