Last year, while making my first visit to Everybody Eats PDX, I drove around the parking lot for nearly 20 minutes trying to find a sign or entrance for the new soul food spot. Eventually, I poked my head inside the Oriental Value Food grocery, and spotted a graffiti wall reading “Everybody Eats PDX.”
That’s where the titular lunch counter used to reside, inside a supermarket out on Southeast 173rd and Powell, which for a lot of us is a long trek for a plate of (albeit exceptional) comfort food. But last May, chef duo Marcell Goss and Johnny Huff Jr. moved into its first brick-and-mortar location in a coveted, high traffic Pearl District space that used to house Marinepolis Sushi Land.
Marcell Goss and Johnny Huff Jr. grew up in North and Northeast Portland respectively, but didn’t meet until they both partnered with Damian Lillard’s chef for an event. After working the event, the two began cooking for other Trail Blazers players, and they discovered they both had the same vision: opening a soul food restaurant that also had the ability to give back. For example, last June, the duo teamed up with former mayoral candidate Teressa Raiford of Don’t Shoot PDX to give 200 free meals to those protesting for the liberation of Black lives. Since they started their business during the pandemic and have made it a point to give back, including a free item on Wednesdays (everybody eats), their Everybody Eats title is somewhat literal. Although they no longer offer free items on Wednesdays, their alignment to the movement remains embedded in their business practices and in their visual representation.
“We secured our last location at the Oriental Food market to make it a commissary kitchen for all of our catering orders and prep-cook space for when we do pop-up events and festivals,” says Huff Jr. of moving into their first space in January 2020, a couple months before COVID reached the US. When the pandemic hit and prompted lockdowns, Everybody Eats lost 90 percent of their catering and pop-up calendar bookings. They were forced to shift their business model.
“We decided to shift to a takeout/fast casual spot inside the Oriental Market instead,” Huff Jr. explains. “With the huge success of that decision, we decided to relocate to a better location in order to provide the best customer experience for our customers.”
Although they moved into the new Pearl District space during the uncertainty of the pandemic, Huff Jr. says they’ve been seeing a significant increase in volume of sales, with more and more people discovering them through word of mouth. The biggest challenge of the new space, Huff Jr. says, is learning just how to best utilize it. Some decor from the last place, like the sushi train counter, is still intact.
“It was a former sushi restaurant so it wasn’t really fit for you know, like soul food, or like the concept that we brought in,” Huff Jr. explains. “So [the challenge] is kind of just adjusting to the building, and making everything work, trying to see what best benefits us, how we can maximize the space and utilize every inch of it.”
Some of their most popular items include the brunch-time chicken and waffles, lamb chops and seafood mac ‘n cheese with lobster (both available at dinner), po’ boys, Philly cheesesteaks, and the perfectly fried choice-of-fish baskets.
“We didn't expect that type of attention and turnout that we’re getting,” Huff Jr. says. “We just had plans to put out good food from the new location and it's been a success so far.”
Now that Everybody Eats has their own brick-and-mortar at 138 NW 10th Ave, they’ve hired more kitchen and house staff, tweaked their menu, and changed up their hours a bit, even adding a happy hour from 5-7 pm.
“We plan on hiring a few more [people] as our needs grow. We're seeing an influx of customers and seeing places where we could use extra help,” Huff Jr. says. “We already have our bar staff pretty much ready to go. We're just waiting on our liquor license to be approved and then we'll be opening up the bar.”
Once the restaurant is granted their liquor license they’ll be serving up drinks like daiquiris, margaritas, and mimosas.
While their food is reason enough to visit the Pearl, the space itself is coming along too. Inside there is a graffiti mural painted by Hand of Dogg, AKA Ray Baxter, an artist who specializes in hand-painted advertising and has been hired to paint murals for businesses who want to deter illegal tagging in the last year. And close inside the Everybody Eats entrance is a number of colorful painted portraits for sale by local emerging artist Tristan “TK” Irving, most of which feature Black icons like Tupac and Stacey Abrams. Having beautifully painted the faces of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, TK’s work has been displayed at Black Lives Matter protests across Portland.
“[TK] actually had [an art gallery show] in the Pearl across from the location that we're in right now at a gallery that is no longer in operation,” Huff Jr. says. “That was our first introduction to a partnership with TK. We catered his art gallery for Black History Month. And then from there, we’ve just been building. He painted our last restaurant on 171st... At this location, we wanted to definitely reach back in with TK and get his creative input, help him showcase his art as well. All his art is [in the restaurant] is for sale.”
Everybody Eats should make a wildly popular meet-up spot for First Thursday, brunch, happy hour, dinner, drinks, and more when the pandemic subsides. However, there is currently some partially covered outside seating with a blue canopy, and the restaurant is also offering limited indoor dining (at 25 percent capacity due to COVID restrictions). It’s nice to have another Black-owned eatery in the Pearl District again after the unfortunate closure of Pink Rose on NW Lovejoy.
“After the pandemic is over, we just plan on growing our brand, and opening up more location,” Huff Jr. says. “You know, just making it bigger, and making Everybody Eats, you know, like a real household name, like McDonald's.”