By Megan McMorris
The sudden closure of Montavilla’s Country Cat restaurant in August at the corner of SE 80th and Stark St., seemed to set off a chain reaction.
Longtime business Eco Baby Gear across the street shuttered its doors in September, followed by Townshend’s Tea in October.
Changes are a given in any neighborhood, but sudden, successive closures have a way of making neighborhoods nervous, wondering where the future of their Main Street is going.
It’s Portland, after all, and “we don’t want what’s happened to other neighborhoods happen to ours,” is the common thought around here.
Look closely though and signs of life start appearing. Eric Mahan (of Stammtisch and Prost!) is opening Tinker Tavern this spring, moving into the old Eco Baby Gear location on SE 78th and Stark.
In the former Country Cat building, the restaurant Lazy Susan (Eem and Le Pigeon alums) may keep that corner on the radar for Portland’s foodie scene when it opens in March.
“There are a lot of great changes happening right now in Montavilla,” says Morgan Hart, owner (with business and life partner Jax Hart) of Hungry Heart Bakery on SE 80th, as she gestures around her under-construction, soon-to-open brunch spot, White Rabbit (occupying the former Townshend’s Tea spot).
One thing that won’t change, though, is these owner’s dedication to the community in which they’ve chosen to set up shop.
Hart recalls the community support that billowed following the tragedy when their beloved bakery manager, Erin Brenneman, was killed by a hit-and-run driver on SE 80th in 2017. That support solidified their dedication to the neighborhood, “what we already felt about this community,” she says.
“We definitely had a little say in who we thought would fit into the neighborhood well and who would be dedicated to Montavilla like we are,” she said referring to who would occupy the former Heartbreaker spot on SE 81st, which they are relinquishing to open White Rabbit.
The new tenants are Daniel and Elise Gold, who will open their Sicilian deli, Sebastiano’s, in April, and envision a space where their children can grow up with their deli.
“We’re looking forward to being a part of the community, because we’ve already encountered so many excited, authentic people here,” says Daniel.
In explaining their dedication to setting up shop in Montavilla, he said, “We want to create crave-worthy food that imbeds in you and makes you want to come back. We want to be the answer to Where do you want to go for lunch? for local businesses.”
For Hart, that attitude is what will solidify the neighborhood moving forward. “Our goal isn’t to be one of the top hottest restaurants in the city, you know? It’s more important to be a daily touchstone for those in the neighborhood. It’s about being a part of the community’s every day.”
When she lights up, it’s hard not to see the new neighborhood through her eyes. As we stand outside on SE Stark outside White Rabbit, she lights up at the possibilities.
First Thursday downtown celebrations. Envisioning and appreciating, the “cozy, downtown district” of SE Stark. Renting out kitchen space for culinary start-ups. “It’s about community, not competition,” she says. “I have a feeling it’s going to be a good summer.”
What About the Purple Building?
No discussion of the neighborhood is complete, of course, without mentioning the Beets Mechanic garage, or as others know it, the purple building with the colorful murals on the side, located on SE 76th and Stark St.
After months of sitting empty, it was demolished in February, reduced to a colorful pile of rubble in just a few days. The new owner, who also owns the lot that includes the farmers market site and the new Montavilla Guitar Studio, is reportedly years away from developing.
Future plans are far from set in stone, but could include affordable housing, community space and restaurant development, or food pods.
All eyes be will trained on this corner, which has long served as a community anchor.
After former owner, developer Randy Rapaport’s efforts to turn the former Beets building into affordable housing fell flat with the Montavilla Neighborhood Association (among the complaints were a lack of parking) he temporarily leased the space to an artists’ collective.
Named the Pegasus Project, the space hosted music and comedy shows, open mics, yoga classes, and served as a community for artists.
Bureaucratic red tape ended up getting in the way (some reports suggest to the tune of $12,000 a year in fines) and Rapaport sold the building last summer and the Pegasus Project’s move-out day was October 31.
“We always knew we were temporary, which is why we gave Pegasus wings in the first place,” says Joshua Wallace, artistic director of the space, “and after three years it was our time to fly.”
While Pegasus has yet to pinpoint a new spot, he says, “We’ll land again somewhere when the timing is right.”
The closure itself begs the question of the future of Portland’s artist scene.
Read more about the Pegasus Project’s future in the April issue of The Southeast Examiner.
Photos by Megan McMorris