Ne Si’Ka Pay What You Can Restaurant Planned in Lents

A unique new “pay what you can” food concept is hoping to call Lents home (a previously reported here on FosterUnited.) Organizers are busy with fundraising and gathering equipment, and there are a couple opportunities for interested neighbors to help bring this vision to reality. We sat down with Director of Operations/General Manager James Layton to find out more about what we can expect on the ground.

Location

Helping to end hunger and food insecurity issues following the “pay what you can” restaurant model. Using, wherever possible, locally produced and sustainable ingredients that are healthy and nutritious. A model that builds community, offers a hand up and helps to end food waste.
-The Ne Si’Ka Mission

The proposed spot is known as the Oddfellows building, one of the oldest buildings in the Lents Town Center, next to Working Class Acupuncture.

Tell us the concept behind the restaurant? 

We’re inspired by Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen. We want to focus more on what he’s doing than on what a lot of other community cafes or pay what you can restaurants are doing. A lot of those are only open from 10-2, and it’s much more cafe style. Typically you walk up and get your food and take it to your seat. That’s great, but we wanted to do something different.

People facing food insecurity, they don’t get that chance of where a server is coming to their table and get that whole dining experience. That was very important to us when we first started talking about it.

We don’t want a cafeteria line. We want people to dine with dignity. We want it to be a restaurant.

I can imagine that some people might have concerns about the potential to attract some of the homeless population to the Lents Town Center, and whatever issues they think might come with that.

From what we know from studying the other restaurants around the county, Nobody has every expressed an issue with that.

The majority of the homeless folks I’ve talked to have said ‘we know it’s a restaurant, and if I needed a meal I might go there, and if i had some money I would contribute something.’  If you treat people with respect, and if you humanize them, They’re going to treat you with respect and they’re going to treat your place with respect.

This is more about food insecurity than homelessness. Where the question is ‘do I pay rent or do I eat?’ A lot of people face that.

What does the Ne Si’Ka name mean?

Our name Ne Si’ka comes from the Chinook word meaning everybody/we/our/us.

What kind of food can we expect?

There will probably be about eight things on the menu that will always be on the menu. What those are, we’re not solid on yet. Everything else will rotate on a daily or weekly basis, based on food donations. We think people will like asking ‘what’s going to be there today?’

We are waiting on, what’s next?

We have been talking with Kevin Cronin [PDC] for like a month and he says ‘you’ve got to do the feasibility study first’. And it wasn’t until we got the application that we realized it was a reimbursement grant. At this point we’re like 9 grand short.

So how the Foster neighbors help you bring your vision to reality?

NeSiKa

There are many ways to help:

Come to the Ne Si’Ka Fundraiser this Thursday

Thursday, December 12 at 6:00pm (Facebook Event Listing)
The Eagle Eye Tavern (92nd & Foster)
$20 suggested donation (Pay what you can, no one turned away)

The soirée (fancy word for party) at their future neighbor, the Eagle Eye features live music, DJ spinning, drink specials, massages by the minute, and a raffle tickets for Portland favorites the ROXY, Southland Whiskey Kitchen, and more!

Take the online survey to let them know what you want!

Let them know about food preferences, dietary restrictions, restaurant amenities and other community needs.

Contribute to the Ne Si’Ka crowd funding campaign

Cash donations will help fund a PDC suitability study for the site and help secure the lease for the building. A series of tasty rewards are offered depending on your donation level. ($40 will get you a tasty, hand delivered pie!)

Donate the items on their wishlist.

We are in need of any of the equipment on this list. Some of it is very specific and some of it is listed as just general need items. They are in no particular order, although most of the larger items are listed first. This is not a definitive list, all donations are welcome! Please remember that all in-kind equipment and service donations are tax deductible.

Bookmark the Ne Si’Ka website, and like them on Facebook to stay in the loop. 

7 Comments

  1. If we want to solidify Lents becoming the Chinatown of the east side, this will help. How many more affordable housing projects and homeless magnets do we really want? Don’t we already have more than our fair share? Lents has a chance to step it up a bit. Blowing our one pot of gold on ill-conceived and pollyannaish projects like this is a waste. And having to pay a waiter to bring your food to you is an extravagance most working class people don’t need or want.

    • Hi Scott. In the year that we have been working on this, this is quite literally, the first negative comment I have seen or heard. Some questions regarding possible concerns, but never negativity.

      Did you read our website? I’m asking out of actual curiosity, not being snippish. We explain quite a bit about what we are trying to do and I am always available to answer any questions or concerns. Ill conceived and pollyannaish could possibly be appropriate if it weren’t for the fact that this has been a successfully proven model around the country. There are people nationwide that are working with each other refining the pay what you can model and teaching and learning from prior mistakes.

      Something that is important to understand is that when you walk in the door, this is going to appear to be like any other restaurant that anyone, regardless of their means, is going to want to eat at. Quality food, quality service, and quality atmosphere. The only difference is that if you don’t have the means you can pay less or even volunteer for a meal. Being a non-profit and removing the ownership profit margin aspect changes the whole dynamic of the restaurant model.

      And contrary to what you have stated, all of the working class families I have talked to are excited for the possibility of taking their families to a restaurant where they feel they will be treated with respect and dignity while being able to enjoy the same meal as everyone else at a price they can afford. To answer the “paying a waiter to bring food” part, the staff will be paid a living wage and tipping is not suggested. Anything above the suggested cost of a meal goes directly back into the operation of the restaurant. Quite a bit of time, research, and tremendous consideration has gone into every aspect of the restaurant.

      I appreciate your feedback and possible concerns, but please look into the entirety of what we are about and if you have any questions at all, please feel free to ask me. You can email me at james.layton@nesikapdx.org instead of filling up the comments section, but I will also gladly respond to you here.

      Thanks,
      James

    • I don’t see how PDC offering support to this (or any other project that fulfills their feasibility process) is “blowing our one pot of gold.” The building is vacant and falling apart due to disuse. I think many would rather see a functioning restaurant of any kind rather than that.

      And while I hear your concern about what kind of atmosphere a “free food” restaurant might create, this is no Sisters of Road. There is another “pay what you can” cafe in Hollywood called Panera Cares. Walking in, you’d never be able to tell the place was any different than a regular cafe.

      From my conversation with James, it’s clear they aim to create a place welcoming to the entire Lents and Portland community. If they pull it off, I hope to see you there for dinner some day.

  2. Hi Scott,

    I’ve been coordinating with James and helping him get to know the Lents Town Center area. What I’m most impressed with is that James is a Restaurateur looking to open a restaurant. He’s not a social/human services provider, who really doesn’t know anything about crafting food. This will be a cafe that has a more flexible way of accepting payment for the food they provide. That’s really the crux of it. I grew up working in a restaurant my grandmother owned. She often did the same things (tabs, accepting work for trade, just feeding people that needed it), but it wasn’t a “thing” then. It was just the right way to do business.

    People that work in the restaurant industry get shift meals, and that’s often the only decent food they can afford. I think it’s amazing that James is thinking about the other folks that make just about as much as a dishwasher or a server, but don’t get the benefit of a shift meal or any other perks. Hell, even I run out of money during the month and often go without eating a few meals because my schedule doesn’t always allow me to cook a lot of food from scratch, and I’m a college educated professional.

    (BTW James, I’m willing to donate a weekend morning a month of Scone making)

  3. This is a great asset to the community. We are lucky to have people putting their time, effort, heart, and soul into creating a positive improvement in our social mindset. I’ll help any way I can. With or without your delicious pie!

  4. I love the mission of this group and wish it the best of luck! I’m sure y’all know about the financial issues that the Portland Panera Cares location has faced – I recall an article saying that their locations in other cities have not had the same issues. I hope you have a good plan for giving this endeavor the best shot it can get at being financially self-sustaining! I hope to attend the fundraiser.

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