A parking lot at Southeast 85th and Stark is a long way from Compton, especially on a 40-degree rainy day, but Trap Kitchen’s Malachi “Spank” Jenkins says it’s right where he wants to be.
“I love everything about Portland. I love the vibe of people and how they treat food,” he explains by phone from LA, where he’s splitting time while still running the popular catering business that’s served everyone from Justin Bieber and Tyga to Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg.
The cart’s arrival in Montavilla is even more uncanny considering Trap Kitchen started as an unlikely partnership between Jenkins, a former Crip, and Roberto “News” Smith, a former Piru Blood. The pair, who met through mutual friends, founded the catering business in 2013 (Trap stands for “Take a Risk and Prosper”) and was soon selling out on the regular. It’s a story that’s spawned media profiles and a cookbook.
Trap Kitchen leans heavily on soul food staples: fried chicken wings are piled onto mac ’n’ cheese and a waffle with satisfying, if sweet, results. Jenkins’ signature pineapple bowl ($20) is heaped with shrimp, steak, and rice, while on Saturdays the kitchen crew is out front, grilling on the barbeque built into the hood of the custom cart. A bright pink frosted lemonade cake ($6) is the stuff of a five-year-old’s dreams.
Jenkins, who attended culinary school, is drawn to Portland for the same reasons almost any chef is: our great food scene. “I’m more inspired out there when I can actually sit down and take time to be creative,” he says. “There’s so much fresh protein and produce. It lets me be more creative.”
Right now, it’s best to follow the cart on Instagram, where daily menus and hours are posted. Also try and catch it on a day when Jenkins himself is in the cart: Right now, he’s spending one week in LA and one in Portland, with plans to move north permanently. Specials, like a gumbo laden with seafood that I REALLY want to try, are for when Jenkins is manning the burners.
“We keep it simple while I’m out of town,” he says. “I fly in every week and we do the specials. It has to taste like me.”
Jenkins says while the location seems a bit desolate, it’s in a good spot to draw in folks living out in “the Numbers,” and is close to I-205. So far, it hasn’t been an issue. Within just a few weeks of opening, the Trap Kitchen truck, tagged “Compton 2 Portland” and “Lord Bless the Trap,” is drawing big lines (and waits) and sells out almost daily.
“It’s been nuts, man, it’s been crazy out there,” Jenkins says. “I like to compare it to LA, and it’s a little more traffic than LA. It’s the food town: Everybody’s looking for new food, new spots to eat at. [Trap Kitchen] is about to become a landmark in Portland.”