5.25.2010

"I Left My Heart on Lombard" Project


"Where's the candy?"

This is the all-too-familiar question exiting the mouths of children at the cafe recently.

You see, there is now a birdhouse where the Dum-Dum sucker dispenser used to live. But not just any birdhouse; this particular birdhouse, designed by the artistic hands of one Kyle Simmons, holds memories. It is a special birdhouse, indeed.

As I type this, there are twenty-seven days left at 4823 N. Lombard St. As such, we are attempting to collect as many memories of the Little Red Bike Cafe as we can. Taking yet another nod from our friends and muses over at the H&H, we have set up this birdhouse so that customers and friends may share a remembrance with us. After three years of dolling out free suckers, we have replaced this habit by asking for something in return. We have set out a pad of paper with a pen next to the birdhouse, and asked participants to leave us with a memory.

To be honest, it's a little like Christmas as we watch the box fill up with the thoughts and words of our friends, and challenge ourselves not to prematurely peek. That's right, we are trying not to look at them until the end. Kyle and I (of course) are the worst at this. You will often see us sneaking in glances after our shift, while also attempting secrecy in the manner, not letting anyone in on what we've seen, or onto the fact that we've been peeking in the first place. Understandably, this is a bittersweet process. My heart nearly broke into three irreparable pieces after it went through one particular customer's tally of ten Little Red Bike Cafe moments, each one a precious milestone in and of itself. That one I had to share with the others working. At that moment it stood as a testament to their greatness, and our accomplishments as a staff and family. Evan and I couldn't be prouder, or ask them for any more than they've already offered.

The box has caught MANY off guard, not just the little ones who are jonesing for their sugar fix. We have realized that in the spirit of trying to maintain a professional attitude at work by not discussing the ongoing turmoil with our landlady, we have managed to be a bit "too professional" by neglecting to inform some of our patrons, many regulars, about the inevitability of our impending departure. Based on what we've learned over the last week, I'd say that a majority of the people who routinely visit our cafe do not visit our blog on a regular basis. Further, many regulars were surprised to hear of the fact we even had a blog. That said, when news of our departure spread at the cafe, via this box, we all suddenly had some explaining to do. There are loads of regulars who claim to have had "literally no idea." They say this with force, drawing out the word, like this:

"What the fuck?!? I had no fucking iiddeeeaaaa. This is nuts!"

Or some say:

"What do you MEAN you're closing?" (Like we have lost our ever-loving-minds)

"Where and when are you reopening!?!" (We sure would like to an answer to this one too)

"This sucks! We just bought a house over here BECAUSE OF YOU! Where are we going to eat now?" (Funny thing is, we live here too. Consider us in the same boat)

These are just a few of the responses we've received. Understandably, those who don't know the (hi)story of the flood and about the many reasons behind our premature exit, cannot possibly comprehend why we would ever leave our home on the Peninsula. From the outside, we appear to be a successful and thriving cafe doing business in a unique and budding (not to mention under-served) community. But you Blog Readers know better than this. You have nursed us along this journey, through our ups and downs, and have understood there is much more to any and every surface. That is partially why we have this blog, because we believe that it's important to share the story behind the journey, our story, that is to say. The worthwhile bits at least.

In full disclosure, I'm getting a little tired of people informing us about how inconvenient this move is for them. Further, they don't really seem to care and/or understand when I try to make them aware of the fact that this move is extremely inconvenient for many; including the eight people who have stuck by us during this difficult time, still pouring their hearts and souls into working shifts at the cafe, even when we know we're nearing the end.

But I get it. If anything, as a north Portland resident myself, I concur that losing this community spot in our neighborhood is a shameful and significant blow, something that the people should be made aware of and upset about. We worked our asses off to create a desirable space in our own neighborhood, and we were fortunate enough to be welcomed into said neighborhood with open arms. Undeniably, magic happened at that moment, a beautiful exchange of give and take, and we will miss operating there and nurturing that partnership terribly.

Upon learning of our debacle, we've had many unbelievably kind offers from our LRBC friends and neighbors. All sorts of people coming out of the woodwork to tell us they will "walk through fire for LRBC." Many have asked our permission to write letters to the local Neighborhood Business Association, newspaper, and/or to the landlord; offered us up the kitchens in their homes and grills in their backyards in the meantime; and have gotten in touch with reporters attempting to dig up more dirt on the story. This has put Evan and I in an uncomfortable situation, for as much as we would like to "expose the truth," we recognize that very little will come from doing so, mostly just the short-lived satisfaction of getting back at somebody who has wronged you. I just want people to know that your offers and gestures have not gone unnoticed. I also want to clarify that we feel we have done everything in our power, particularly in the last two months, to come to some sort of reconciliation with the property owner. The fact of the matter is that the damage has been done, both emotionally and financially, and there are too many hurt feelings and unreasonable requests to sort through.

While we have tried to be respectful about not disclosing too much information regarding the reasons behind our departure, I need to make a few points very clear for those of you who have decided (or felt left) to come to your own conclusions:

1. We have NEVER, as is in NEVER-EVER been late paying our bills at the cafe, and furthermore, should be considered nothing less than reliable, responsible, and professional tenants.
2. We are not QUITTING this business due to burn-out, nor are we just walking away and abandoning our 'hood.
3. We love this neighborhood and ultimately know we will return doing business here somehow, someway.
4. We would stay if we felt we could. Please know that and never doubt it.

But that is not all. In conjunction with the telling of this cafe's story and the "I Left My Heart on Lombard" project, here are some of Evan's and my favorite Little Red Bike Cafe memories we'd like to share with everyone:

1. Feeding Hanna Hatfield, on her first birthday, her first ice cream ever. The flavor was honey-cardamom, because the vanilla just wouldn't cut it.

2. Watching several couples (five that we know of so far) initiate and find their true love at/because of/over egg sandwiches at the cafe. Sometimes as a result, the course of people's lives has been permanently altered. You know who you are (Hi Brian & Julia). We find this, and the very small role we played in making this twist of fate possible, absolutely mind blowing.

3. The man supporting the cause by volunteering his time to pick up garbage on Lombard St. He refuses to be paid, even when we try to bribe him with coffee and sweets.

4. LRBC's 1st anniversary and karaoke-night party at The Alibi. Frank Sinatra, pupu platters, and the LRBC crew in all of its faded glory. Need I say more?

5. The "Tulip Tree" and its magenta bulbs bursting come Springtime, outside the cafe kitchen's window.

6. The smell of bacon sizzling and onions caramelizing wafting down Lombard.

7. Having access to meeting so many new faces and friends, and running into them: riding bikes, walking the dogs, making color copies, drinking beers, buying eggs, on the Bluff, eating tacos, washing cars, etc. This could also be retitled: "North Portland is Small" or "Six Degrees of Little Red Bike Cafe."

8. Brunches, hugs and wisdom from the one and only Jonlyn.

9. Waiting and watching out the window for the arrival of Courier Coffee by bike (and the smile that brings every.single.time)

10. Accessibility of espresso: when we want it, how we want it, and just like that.

11. Personal press highlights/milestones include: winning "Best Restaurant Blog" (The Oregonian) and "Best French Toast" (Portland Monthly), and being written up in Gourmet. We also really dug the couple of pieces by The Beacon.

12. Riding the tandem to work. Never got old.

13. Serving local celebrities. Like Portland's mayor, Sam Adams, for the first time. Which was almost as cool as the first time serving members of the Decemberists. Which was a close second to serving the rock-stars in the food industry like top chefs John Gorham, Tommy Habetz, and Troy MacLarty. Which ultimately doesn't compare to the joy and satisfaction of serving our community and neighbors on a routine basis. We became very aware that our little cafe was more than just a blurb as "this week's hot spot," but served as, more importantly, a safe location for friends, families, teachers, and community members to gather, converse, and congregate. We are mindful of the fact that our work is satisfying at the end of the day for that reason.

14. Witnessing birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations, daddy-dates, and many of life's private moments. I feel honored that we created a space that was considered enough of a sanctuary to share these times with your loved ones. Thank you for letting us in on those times. These "behind the scene" glimpses into your lives made my heart ache in the best of ways.

15. Chalice-sized Bloody Marys on Thursdays and Saturdays for our fellow regular cats (and heroes) in the coffee industry. Hats off to Sterling Coffee Roasters, Coffeehouse NW, and Barista. We love you guys. Probably more than we should, and more than that which makes sense given we are "competition." (HA! That which we cannot achieve from behind the espresso bar shall be accomplished henceforth on the bowling lanes. See you next Tuesday!)

There's fifteen to start. More to come.

Thank you Portland, for making us feel like more than "just a coffee shop."

P.S. The Dum Dums have actually just been relocated to behind the counter. If you need one, please ask!

16 comments:

kati said...

this is all just heartbreaking :(
you guys are the little gem, the heart of this neighborhood, and will be DEARLY missed.

i will have to bring by some of the photos i've taken at lrbc over the last couple years to put in the box... xoxo

AnnMarie said...

i want to offer my humble services as a veteran zinester in making a zine out of the memory wall, the map wall and the memory box...just puttin that out there.

Shenandoah said...

Hanna and her folks and sister will never forget you guys. Not just because of the ice cream (though it was pretty sweet for us too).

Justina said...

Kyle introduced me to your cafe about a year ago and I must say you really do serve some of the best breakfast I have had here in Portland. You also make the best iced mochas! Unfortunately, living in Southeast, I don't get out that way very often so I have stayed pretty on top of your blog (it happens to be listed in my favorites). I swear I can almost taste the food with the wonderful pictures you post. I am glad I had the opportunity to come visit the cafe this weekend and buy a jar of apple butter, which I am trying really hard to not devour in one sitting knowing that you will be closing soon and I need to make it last. My mom is coming to visit me this summer and requested a trip to the Little Red Bike Cafe for a VLT because she "absolutely loves that place" after only eating there once last summer when she visited. This may not seem like a big deal, but my mom can never remember the names of restaurants, or a specific dish for that matter, unless it is somewhere she repeatedly eats. She was very sad to hear about the closing as was I when I first read about it on your blog. Kudos for being so strong and continuing to serve great dishes with warm smiles at this emotional time. I hope that you are able to continue your business at a different location in NoPo and if not I'm sure southeast would welcome you too ;)

Molly said...

I will start writing my novel now...you may need a bigger bird house.

PS...nicely done, Kyle!

Maesie said...

I understand wanting to be professional, but let us advocate on your behalf! Why should we as a community let this happen to anyone ever again? There will be another tenant after you and what's to keep them from being treated the same way?

North Portland needs businesses like yours and the neighborhood suffers when behavior like this is allowed to continue. This landlord should know how much support you have and how much your customers, many of whom are probably her customers too, do not support these kind of tactics.

It's not about revenge, it's about setting standards as a community.

xun said...

hi owners and family of lrbc , i'm a singaporean living in korea now and i've been following your blog for years , and had been greatly inspired . I actually plan to visit you in portland one day .. but all the best to your future and i hope i'll visit your cafe one day . I will remain as lrbc's supportor as I dreamt of myself visiting it . - xun -

kati said...

how sweet is xun :)

Jonlyn said...

Well, you took my breath away again. I'm a grateful 8 in so many ways. Let's visualize round 2 of Evan&Ali'sLRBC - like it is already here (that's the key; a "mental equivalent" of what you two want to manifest, see it, smell it, taste it whatever "it" is, and let those thoughts and visions fly free. I will sit close by smiling and cheering and watch the doors open. Life is truly an adventure. You make me feel known and loved. I thank you for all the wonderful meals, laughs, smiles. and friendship. Jonlyn

HuevosRancheros said...

What!? You're closing! Haven't been by in awhile, as I was participating in a one-man boycott since you no longer served one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life: eggwich dressed with mmmmanchego, olive tepanade, red peppers, prosciutto & sprinkled to perfection with oregano. Yes please, all the time please. Drooling now. Damn that Rudywich for being so good. In any case, stopped in recently, hoping Rudy may be back & learned of the bad news. Tear. Will have to eat much LRBC in the coming weeks.

Sincerely hope you find a new home, preferably in the hood, so my hope can be restored for another taste, even a morsel, of the best eggwich, EVER.

LRBC food cart in SJ...? You could call it LRFC, little red food cart, haha. There is a new pod alert: http://www.foodcartsportland.com/2010/05/02/cart-for-sale-and-new-pod-alert/

Amanda said...

Hey guys, I think I was the one who said ""This sucks! We just bought a house over here BECAUSE OF YOU!" My partner and I just closed on a little old farmhouse on Allegheny-- and celebrated sealing the deal with a coupla Paperboys and a cup of Portland's finest java. Y'all have created magic in your lovely little place and we will follow you wherever life takes you...Best wishes and thank you! And...see you tomorrow morning for one last Lombard Street breakfast? :)

Catherine said...

Heart = broken, but filled with such love nonetheless that I had the joy of knowing the first installment of Little Red Bike Cafe. You raised the bar higher than I ever thought possible. Much love.

Anonymous said...

I have never been to Portland and just happened to clik on your site from a 101cookbooks link.

I am sorry to hear about your closure as I could feel the passion through the pages of the blog. Remember that you shall succeed again.

Best wishes to you

Ali and Evan said...

Kati,
Fear not. There is no need to be sad for us. This is not the end of the story, merely a chapter. XO

AnnMarie,
We would love to take you up on this! I just need to get my act together. But let's do this!!!

Doe,
The Hatfield family won over our hearts many years ago. You guys rock!

Justina,
Kyle is our ambassador. We cannot say enough good things about him. Thank you for making our cafe and apple butter a part of your day. It means the world.

Molly,
You've been there since the beginning. It's hard to believe we won't be serving you come three weeks. Thank you for your steadfast support, and levelheaded loyalty. Trust that all feelings between us are mutual.

Maesie,
While we agree with you, lovely lady, we are also just trying to move forward. It's almost like a break up. Sometimes it's best to just remove yourself from the situation. But thank you for your kind words and for speaking your mind. We're honored to have your support.

xun,
hello! Thank you for writing, and for reading our blog all the way in Singapore. Wow! We are very touched by your support. We will try to make you proud!

Jonlyn,
Here's to regaining our "Muchness"

Huevos,
Sorry Dude. Nothing personal. I can tell you this much: we'll be bringing back some of the old favorites during our last week. Be on the lookout for your Spaniard!

Amanda.
Our ultimate goal is to return to the neighborhood in some fashion so that we are able to continue serving our friends and neighbors. Don't forget, we live here too, and have nothing but love for North Portland. Thanks for reading the blog and for visiting the cafe. We are happy to dish out fine java and lovely lombard breakfasts to people like you. Thanks for being rad.

Catherine,
We're the lucky ones. Remember, you inspire us in so many ways. This friendship, as distant as it may be, is a good thing.

anon,
Bless Heidi's (101's) heart for guiding you here. Thanks for reading and for the encouraging words. The last part in particular, about succeeding again, gave me goosebumps. Cheers.

Renegade Pilgrim said...

Hi, I don't follow your blog as much as I should, but I love LRBC. I have introduced so many of my friends from other states and countries to the delightful food and drink at the LRBC. I am currently traveling out of the country until September 2nd and my heart is breaking when I realize I might not get to taste a Messenger Sandwich again! I hope and pray (I'll even light a candle for you in Rome, where I am currently!) that you will find a new and better place to re-open soon!

Chris said...

Not long ago, I started a business born from my love of the Portland food world. I won't go into specifics, so as not to appear commercially selfish on your delightful and dear blog. But as I was laying the foundation for my business, I asked Jon Gorham at Tasty and Sons the same question I've asked many of Portland's incredible chef/owners, "where are your favorite spots?" Without hesitation, first words: "Little Red Bike Cafe." I subsequently made the drive up there from Lake Oswego, where I met #PortlandCabbie, to exchange business ideas. He blogged about your place, I tweeted. Since then when I've been asked about hidden gems for breakfast, I don't have to think much (which of course is one of my main goals in life).

Just posted your blog in my Portland Food Adventures FB page and Twitter. Ok, I am guilty, but that wasn't the point... I wish you all the best, and can't wait to hear where your adventure leads you next. Your hearts are strong and wonderful, and tasted with delight both through your kitchen and your keyboard. Your passion will take you to wonderful places. That much I can taste.