2932 SE Division St.
After nineteen years on Division St., Michael and Cathy Slyman will be moving Clay’s Smokehouse Grill to a new location at 6305 SE King Rd. They have served up some of the best smoked fish, ribs, seafood, chicken, oysters and sides to the delight of the neighborhood and those fortunate enough to come across the place. Locals will have to drive or bike a little further south to visit them now.
Clay’s brought authentic southern barbecue to Portland long before there were many restaurants doing this style. Michael was born into the southern barbecue restaurant life and hospitality where he spent a portion of his early years bussing, serving, learning recipes for smoking meats, while making barbecue sauce, corn bread, greens and coleslaw at his uncle’s place called Freddie’s Barbecue & Steakhouse in North Carolina. He said the place was modeled after the famous Gilley’s Cafe in Texas where everything was done large.
The couple decided to come west to settle down and raise a family. Their oldest son Clay was born just before they opened the restaurant on Division, back when it was just starting to wake up from the placid business corridor to the bustling city street it has become. It was the perfect location for this type of food with its casual atmosphere. “People weren’t surprised to see Cathy waiting tables with a baby strapped to her back or she would hold someone’s crying infant while they ate,” he said. “Hands-on, southern hospitality.”
Michael does all the smoking of the meat onsite. This slow process preserves the protein content and adds a distinct flavor. After it is smoked, they simmer it in barbecue sauce, depending on the order.
When Nature’s moved in next door it was a great boost to the business. There was more foot traffic and vegetarians helped Clay’s expand their offerings for veggie dishes. Over the years they’ve served everyone from skateboarding kids to elderly grandparents, seen their customers kids grow up and watched their own grow up too. They have all taken a turn helping in the restaurant. “Clay’s is a family-friendly place.”
As members of the community they were always there with donations of support at the local school auctions, street fairs, business association fundraisers, discounting meals and making their food a gift to many.
Clay’s weathered the closure of the street, survived the economic downturn of the first decade, the lack of parking and held their own despite the increased amount of restaurants and food carts in the area. When the landlord began to make unreasonable demands for rent increases a few years back, the Slymans bought the property on King Rd. He saw the writing on the wall
Now they are onto an exciting future. The relocated Clay’s is going to be a whole new chapter. It is a prefabricated Quonset hut and they will be up and rolling by the middle of September. There’s plenty of room for the smokehouse, indoor and outdoor seating, a full bar, carry out section and best of all, lots of parking.
“I live close by our current location, maybe ten minutes away but by the time I drive here, find parking and walk to the restaurant, it can take a lot longer,” Michael said. So the fifteen to twenty minute drive to our new location is easy and not at all frustrating.
Their last day in business on Division Street will be on the day of the Street Fair, July 23. “We plan to sell out of everything, food, beer, wine and will close the door when it’s gone.”
Clay’s Smokehouse Grill truly has been one of the original anchors on Division St. They took the risk long before the “D” Street vision ever came into being and have fed us all well. We wish the Slymans good luck.