With a new curry plate offered every weekend, Mirisata was slammed when it opened as a pop-up to-go restaurant in June 2020. With Portlanders hungry for exciting takeout options and looking to support local businesses, the vegan Sri Lankan restaurant was selling out every night.
“I’m always tasting something new every week. It’s overwhelming in an exciting way,” says Ro, co-owner of the restaurant. Mirisata, which means “spicy curry” in Sinhala, is a cooperative, worker-owned business. The owners asked that their last names not be used in the story to deemphasize their role as individual owners.
By the time January 2021 rolled around, however, the pop-up to-go restaurant turned brick-and-mortar wasn’t getting much business. So they came up with a novel idea: launch a membership program. In exchange for a $40 membership fee, customers get a 10% discount on all orders and exclusive access to things like reservation-only Sunday brunch throughout the calendar year.
“I haven’t seen anything else like it in the restaurant industry,” says Alex, one of the owners. “Basically, it’s a way for our regular customers, the people who want to make sure we make it through the winter, to help us out a little bit while also getting something in return.”
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about challenging times for all Oregon businesses, but hit especially hard were restaurants that rely on a steady stream of dine-in customers. Mirisata was conceived and launched during the pandemic, so the owners were already looking to find unique ways to serve their community. Other restaurants, however, have had to change business strategies on a dime, coming up with innovative ways to stay afloat and stay connected with their customer base.
Here are some of the ways Oregon’s restaurants have pivoted to expand their offerings, even adding a taste of social justice to the menu.
Restaurant Cooking at Home
Willow, a small farm-to-table restaurant in Southeast Portland known for its six-course chef’s tasting menu, now offers three tiers of monthly membership-style meal boxes so you can make their decadent dishes — like rib-eye roast with bone marrow — from the comfort of your kitchen. Each box requires minimal preparation and includes seasonings, sauces, dressings and other essentials designed to make you feel as if you’re cooking right alongside chefs Doug Weiler and John Pickett. You also have the option to complete the meal by adding on hand-selected wines to each box.
They’re not the only Portland restaurant offering a packaged dinner kit perfect for date night. In addition to online ordering for pickup and delivery, Afuri Izakaya, also located in Beaverton, allows fans of its seafood gyoza, yuzu ratan and yuzu shio the chance to make these flavorful dishes at home. Each box includes portioned ingredients and cooking instructions, and you can easily add on to-go cocktails.
Jackson’s Corner in Bend made a similar adaptation, selling prepackaged meal kits to make pizza, burgers, and dough for their chocolate chip or ginger-molasses cookies. They also sell beer, cider, wine, to-go cocktails and nonalcoholic beverages. Portland’s Milk Glass Mrkt also pivoted to offer food, wine and market goods from its North Killingsworth location, made easy with an online shop and walk-up window — pro tip: check out the pastry and baked goods schedule to time your visit with fresh focaccia loaves.
Herb & Flour Patisserie in Medford bakes custom cakes and pastries and will soon add “anytime” pastry offerings. Until then, they’re offering $43 monthly subscriptions to pastry boxes filled to the brim with tasty treats. April’s pastry box includes a slice of pear tarte tatin, rhubarb financier, hazelnut sable cookie, lemon cookie, caramel-swirl brownie and a slice of German apple cake.
Promoting Social Justice
One restaurant in Salem has taken an innovative approach to promoting social justice. Epilogue Kitchen & Cocktails serves up an eclectic menu of Philadelphia cheesesteaks, crab cakes, waffles and pierogies. Whether you’re stopping in for a bite or you’re ordering online, you have the option to borrow a book for a refundable $15 deposit, all of which celebrate Black culture and promote antiracism. The move helps the restaurant promote Black Lives Matter as both a statement and a lifestyle.
Other restaurants and bars have shown their commitment to equity and inclusion by joining One Portland, a nonprofit started in 2017 by the owner of Southeast Portland bar Church. Participating businesses commit to making a monthly donation toward local social justice organizations, and in return, the organizations provide training on topics such as Portland’s history with racism, microaggression and human trafficking. Visit the organization’s website to find participating businesses.