On the main strip of North Portland’s Kenton neighborhood sits Po’Shines Café de la Soul, a legendary home-style Southern restaurant. At Po’Shines, nourishment goes beyond sustenance; food is just way Founder and CEO Pastor E.D. Mondainé feeds the community. The project began in 1990 by providing meals to churchgoing families (in an effort to give them more time to congregate on Sundays), and quickly expanded to serve the public as well.
Mondainé and his congregation first offered coffee, sandwiches and secretarial services under the name “Girl & Guy Fridays.” They later rebranded as “Fridays Espresso,” specializing in espresso and antiques, before switching gears again to become one of Portland’s best-known soul food eateries. Located on North Denver Avenue, Po’Shines shares space with Mondainé’s Celebrate Tabernacle church, daycare center and music school.
The Story of Po’shine(s)
Against a façade of unassuming beige, a bright chartreuse awning adorned with a smiling Cecil “Po’Shine” Wooden makes a statement. As Mondainé tells it, the original Po’Shine was a shoeshine, congregant and barbecue enthusiast. Wooden urged the Celebrate Tabernacle church to reinvent its café into a hub for true soul food. And with a philanthropic donation, his dream became a reality (albeit posthumously).
Though Po’Shine has passed, his spirit and portrait live on and welcome patrons to experience the warmth that awaits inside. Even as its tables fill, Po’Shines’ amiable staff, homey décor and vibrant pieces of art ensure the eatery exudes coziness.
“We make it a purpose and a point to welcome everyone as if we’ve known them for years. That’s key,” says Mondainé. “Po’Shines is a good place to go if you really feel like being loved. If you don’t feel like you fit in anywhere else and you feel like you need a dose of home, come to Po’Shines.”
Po’shines Gives Back to the Community
Po’Shines’ “Teach Me to Fish” program offers culinary and life skills training to at-risk youth and adults, and folks with disabilities. (The name derives from the adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”) The program partners with counselors, business owners and educators to help transform participants into culinary professionals.
Like the Teach Me to Fish program, Po’Shines Catering & Culinary Clinic looks to build a more equitable and inclusive food industry by providing at-risk youth and adults with hands-on learning and career training.
“We’re diverse and community-conscious — that’s our goal,” explains Mondainé. “When you’re in the community, you’ve been called there to make a difference. Whatever difference that you make — whatever your strong suit is — that’s what you do. It seems that we’re very good at hospitality and feeding people.”
For decades, Po’Shines has hosted an annual Thanksgiving meal open to the public. In 2017, Mondainé estimates that over 100 volunteers served meals to about 1,200 community members, marking another successful year “As long as Po’Shines and Fridays have been in existence, we’ve fed people,” he reflects.
Visiting Po’Shines Café
On weekend nights in spring and summer, Mondainé (who is also a celebrated musician) invites talented Portland jazz musicians and vocalists to perform at Po’Shines. Every January, the restaurant hosts an annual chitlin festival that draws crowds from Seattle to Eugene. Mondainé explains that chitlins (cooked pig intestines) “were once a staple in the African American diet.” Nowadays, they’re often discarded due to a lack of knowledge or interest in the laborious preparation. But at Po’Shines, they do the work.
“We put it in everything!” says Mondainé. “We make a macaroni and chitlin, chili and chitlin, fried chitlin, chitlin and cheese and a chitlin hoagie. We have it several different ways and it’s always delicious.” The menu pleases soul food fans with juicy pulled pork, perfectly fried catfish, fluffy beignets and bountiful po’boys. The all-day breakfast includes mountains of crisp home fries, creamy grits and fried chicken and waffles.
In addition to the flagship Kenton location, Po’Shines’ Southern cuisine can be enjoyed at two locations within the Moda Center. Grab a bite during a Trail Blazers game. Po’Shines also serves its beloved eats during events at Portland International Raceway.
Mondainé looks forward to a future filled with even more exciting endeavors for the community. In early 2018, Po’Shines plans to offer exclusive dining hours at the Billy Webb Elks Lodge, a historic staple within the Black community in Portland since the 1920s. A vintage-inspired ‘Po’Room’ dinner theater is also set to debut in 2020. It’s clear that the Po’Shines family is here to adapt and stay — and to serve the community.