• Allan Classen

Neighbors pitch in to help restaurants, those in need

Hillside residents Chiharu and Jim Olsson (L-R) join Friendly House staff members Nick Hash, Monique Eldridge and Lauren Eldridge in a program to help save neighborhood restaurants. Photo by Matt Erceg

Chiharu and Jim Olsson had lived in Japan, Hong Kong, New York and San Francisco before concluding that Portland was the right place for them.

They were drawn to the culture, the mix of unique restaurants and the street activity, particularly in Northwest Portland, where they and their two young sons moved in 2017. “It fit,” said Jim, the managing director of an international financial consulting firm.

“We didn’t come here to change it,” he said. “Maybe that’s why we’re fiercely defending it. We love this place.”

Defending their adopted neighborhood now means pouring their creativity and energies into saving the independent restaurants.

“We want the Nobby to survive,” he said, referring to the low-key tavern at Northwest 23rd and Lovejoy operated by the same family for 34 years. “The Nobby gives the neighborhood its character and uniqueness.”

Olsson fears the eventual recovery may be dominated by fast-food chains if local places are forced out of business during the crisis.

So the Olssons came up with an idea to help local restaurants generate cash flow during the pandemic, when takeout service is their only avenue.

In short order, they cooked up and launched Adopt A Restaurant, a program wherein individuals can make tax-deductible donations used by restaurants to prepare meals for vulnerable populations. Friendly House and Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center are their nonprofit partners.

The line at Dragonfly Coffee House, 2387 NW Thurman St., “social distances” itself into the street.

Any restaurant can participate by emailing and asking to be added to the list of participating establishments. “If they donate to Friendly House, 100 percent of it goes to the restaurant,” said Mya Chamberlain, recently promoted to executive director of the venerable Northwest Portland agency.

The agency then pays the restaurant $15 for each takeout meal, and its staff members or volunteers deliver them to homes. The site went live in early April and soon began taking orders.

“To date, we’ve delivered 61 meals to seniors and low-income families,” Chamberlain said. “We delivered 30 meals from Ling Garden yesterday.

Ling Garden, 931 NW 21st Ave, was an early beneficiary of Adopt A Restaurant.

“It’s an incredible idea. People can order takeout for themselves and add something to donate to the community.

“We’ve known the Olssons for a while and are constantly inspired by their community spirit,” said Chamberlain, who met the couple last year when they were looking for help in keeping the Hillside Community Center in their neighborhood open.

“The commitment they put into this program and the speed with which they put it up are amazing.”

The Olssons canvassed the streets and sent emails to learn which restaurants were doing takeout and which might participate in their program. The also helped compile and update the list of takeout restaurants printed in the NW Examiner.

Jim Olsson worries about what could become of his neighborhood’s restaurant scene as a result of the coronavirus. He was jolted to learn that the operator of a prominent Northwest 23rd Avenue restaurant was considering closing the place and operating solely as a food cart, reversing the usual rags-to-riches arc of many notable Portland eateries.

“The Olssons are the perfect example of what happens in our neighborhood in times of crisis,” said Chamberlain, recalling her conversation with Jim about his motivation. “I want to be able to tell my kids what I was doing during this time,” she said.

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