October’s Launch article features Soul Kitchen, Easy Company and Slick’s Big Time BBQ.

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Launch140722 PONO-8475 500pxRestaurant Row

Company: Soul Kitchen
Owners: Ted & Shin Nakato
Launched: 2014

Located in Portland’s restaurant-strapped Hollywood district, Soul Kitchen offers a new spin on the city’s local food scene: a Japanese farm-to-table venue selling premium beef raised on a family-owned farm.

Sourcing from local farmers is nothing new. But Soul Kitchen proprietors Ted and Shin Nakato take that idea to its logical extreme. “All the beef and pork that’s featured on the menu is from our farm,” says Ted, who co-owns Pono Farm in Bend.

Third-generation restaurant owners Ted, 37, and his brother Shin, 43, began raising cattle 14 years ago. The brothers slowly built up their herd, with a focus on Wagyu cattle   —   a Japanese breed favored for its slow marbling process. In 2011 the Nakatos opened a butcher shop in Bend, with ambitions of eventually opening a restaurant. Says Ted, “Our ultimate goal was to have a full-service, high-end dining experience.”

Enter Soul Kitchen. The restaurant opened in June, bringing yōshoku — Western-influenced Japanese dishes  —  to Portland foodies. With a limited livestock supply, Ted says they aim to utilize the entire carcass, in dishes like grilled beef tongue and wok-fried beef liver.

Pono Farm meat is aged and butchered at the Nakatos’ production facility in Bend. It is distributed to Soul Kitchen and Pono Farm retailers in Bend and Portland.

Launch140722 PONO-8186 500pxClean living
“None of our animals are ever administered steroids, growth hormones or antibiotics,” says Ted. “Our beef is fed grass and hay and we don’t feed them any grain, corn or soy.”

Price conscious
Dinner at Soul Kitchen doesn’t come cheap. A dinner for three can easily run more than $90. Ted makes no excuses, citing the time and effort that goes into raising livestock. “We don’t just get on the phone and call in our meat. Customers who know food will appreciate they are getting a quality ingredient.”

Launchminis1014-1 200pxLocation, location, location

Easy Company
Owners: Ryan Magarian & Kurt Huffman
Launched: 2014

“To open in Chinatown, you’ve got to be a little bit nuts,” says Kurt Huffman, a longtime Portland restaurateur who has a stake in several local venues.

Known for its vacant storefronts and a large number of social-service agencies, Portland’s Old Town-Chinatown neighborhood may be a risky place to open a high-end cocktail bar. But last month Huffman and co-owner Ryan Magarian did just that. Located one block from Chinatown Gate, Easy Company features three cocktail menus (original, classic and vintage), 16 draft-beer taps and a selection of grub by Lardo, the Portland sandwich shop.

In September developer Gerding Edlen announced plans to build a six-story mixed-use building in Old Town, marking a big step forward in the city’s long-term vision to revitalize the neighborhood. Huffman hopes more projects will follow.

“It’s the last undeveloped area of downtown,” he says. “It has to happen soon.”

Launchminis1014-2 200pxMeals on wheels

Slick’s Big Time BBQ
Owners: Dan & Barbi Slick
Launched: 2013

“We’re out in Timbuktu,” says Dan Slick of Slick’s Big Time BBQ in Newberg.

The Slicks started making their own barbecue sauces eight years ago and, in March 2013, opened a commissary kitchen in the middle of a U-Haul parking lot as an adjunct to their full-time catering service. The drive-thru was an added perk, “much like a paid tasting room — like the wineries have,” says Dan.

Located in the heart of wine country, Slick’s gets a boost from the steady stream of people passing through Newberg en route to Willamette Valley vineyards. This summer approximately 25% to 30% of drive-thru customers were wine tasters.

The Slicks aren’t staking their future on wine tourism. Their sauces will soon be sold in the Midwest. Dan and Barbi are also looking to expand into a brick-and-mortar location near Tualatin.