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District Spotlight: Foster Area
At the turn of the century, Portland was on the move and the streetcar was the vehicle. Streetcar lines radiated eastward from downtown and eventually made their way into outer Southeast neighborhoods. In the 1890’s a line was constructed along SE Foster Road, turning a sleepy farm-to-market route into a bustling business district. At the time, Foster was Portland’s widest road with 17-foot sidewalks modeled after Parisian boulevards. Over the years, automobiles replaced streetcars and the road became a thruway for people traveling to other inner neighborhoods. But thanks to the resilience of businesses and neighbors, Foster is booming once again. The future of the district looks bright with upcoming streetscape improvements that will transform the street from a high-speed commuter shortcut to a destination unlike any in the city.
Venture Portland sat down with the leaders of the Foster Area Business Association (FABA) to talk about what they love about the district and why they are proud to call Foster home.
Matthew Micetic is President of FABA and Owner of Red Castle Games, a board and card game store that regularly hosts tournaments, artist group meetings and game developer nights. Allen Rowand is Vice President of FABA and Owner of Gray Dog Digital, which specializes in computer system design, data storage solutions, email administration and more. Marina Martinez-Bateman is Foster Area’s Organizer, the organization’s sole part-time staff member.
What is your favorite thing about Foster?
Allen: I really like that there are so many wonderful businesses within walking distance. There are great food options here – Foster Burger makes my favorite burger ever and Nayar Taqueria makes my favorite al pastor tacos. I really like Starday Tavern because it is dog friendly and I can take my dog Sebastian there. Carts on Foster is one of the best food cart pods in the city thanks to carts like La Arepa and Bari. Having all this within a short distance of my house is just fantastic.
Matthew: Tango Berretin. I danced there for 10 years and it’s the reason I chose to open my shop on Foster. It is the studio of Alex Krebs, the foremost male tango dancer in North America. In the 90’s Alex helped found the Portland tango community which has since become the most technically advanced and arguably the best tango community in the United States. During our Tasting Tour they are offering a ‘taste of tango’ for newbies and a fundraiser dance that evening.
The Foster Tasting Tour is Saturday, July 8 from 2-10pm and features more than 20 Foster businesses offering specials, discounts, behind the scenes tours and more. Grab a passport from participating businesses and collect stamps for a chance to win gift certificates.
Marina: I like the grittiness of Foster. I think it makes us an authentic destination unlike anywhere else in the city. We have a kid’s toy store right next to the Fat Self Center which is right next to Catalyst, a sex-positive community space. We have things like Futpool, which you can only find in Foster, art galleries and performance art like Performance Works NW and Linda Austin Dance. We have a mix of low-brow and high-brow that works perfectly together – pot shops, taxidermy, fine art – anything you could want.
Nayar Taqueria opened in 2013 and dishes up tacos with 16 different kinds of fillings plus tamales, burritos and mole all made with locally sourced ingredients.
Carts on Foster is home to 14 food carts and Pod Bar, which serves beer and cider out of a vintage camping trailer.
La Arepa opened in 2011 and dishes up Venezuelan street food including arepas, which are corncakes served with cheese, meats, fish or veggies.
Bari opened in 2016 and specializes in Panzerotti, an Italian street food that is one part calzone, one part fry bread.
The Fat Self Center is a community space where marginalized bodies are centered and celebrated through educational events and movement classes.
Catalyst is an 18+ community center providing education, hands on workshops and other social opportunities.
Futpool Portland is the only place in Oregon offering the sport which combines soccer and billiards on massive pool tables.
Performance Works NW and Linda Austin Dance is an artist-focused incubator for new time-based work led by choreographer and performer Linda Austin.
After dark, there’s no shortage of entertainment for adults on Foster including strip clubs like DV8, home of the ‘gluten-free lap dance’ and Devil’s Point, home of ‘stripparaoke’, where patrons sing along to their favorite tunes with dancers. Other watering holes include FoPo Tavern, which has free ping pong and an assortment of video and board games and O’Malley’s Saloon and Grill, which offers made-from-scratch stone hearth pizza baked at 725 degrees.
How has Foster’s identity changed over time?
Matthew: The more it has changed the more it has stayed the same. For every new business that has opened on the street, legacy businesses like Mt. Scott Fuel, which has been on Foster for nearly 100 years, continue to thrive. There’s also lots of exciting new businesses like the Latinx-focused Portland Mercado which opened in 2015. When I opened Red Castle Games in 2010, the newspaper ran an article calling us the ‘lone hope for retail on Foster’. We were one of 3 retail stores on Foster between Powell and 82nd Ave. At the time, it was mostly family-owned light industrial. Now we are expecting 300 new units of housing and a massive streetscape improvement in the next 2 years and I think that is only the beginning. As the district continues to change we need to make sure that the long-time businesses that make Foster fun and quirky don’t get pushed out.
Allen: We’ve definitely gotten more retail, which is great, but also different types of retail like Hammer and Jacks, which is a kid’s toy store that has a whole playroom in the back, Backstory Books, which also sells yarn and hosts classes, and art galleries that are doing all kinds of different things like physical sculpture. Business owners here get really animated and will do whatever they can to make Foster succeed. There’s a feeling that we are all working together for the good of the district so there’s a lot of partnerships and collaboration. For our upcoming 2nd annual Tasting Tour, Foster Burger is teaming up with Foster Buds to do a promotion. It’s great to see that kind of camaraderie.
Marina: The Foster community is more engaged and resilient than ever. Neighbors and businesses support each other and that has helped us overcome any challenge that we’ve faced. Earlier this year, FABA released a values statement that makes it clear that we are an inclusive community that supports diversity and tolerance.
Mt Scott Fuel opened in 1919 and sold firewood that they logged from nearby Mt. Scott using horses and wagons. These days the family-owned company is in its fourth generation and sells mostly bark dust and other landscaping products.
Portland Mercado is a business incubator led by Portland non-profit Hacienda CDC that provides affordable space for 9 Latinx food carts, a grocery store, meat shop, coffee roaster and beer and wine shop.
Hammer and Jacks opened in 2016 and features a 680 square-foot community space that includes a wooden castle available for events and parties.
Backstory Books is a neighborhood book shop and urban spinnery, creating upcycled yarn. The shop hosts art from local artists every Second Saturday.
Foster Buds is one of the few dispensaries in Oregon that is licensed to sell both adult recreational and medical marijuana.
Other long-time businesses on Foster include Artistic Taxidermy, which has mounted game from the Pacific Northwest, Africa and Europe since 1937; Carpenters Tax and Accounting, which has provided tax preparation, accounting and consulting services since 1992; I’ve Been Framed, which has provided framing services and art supplies since 1955; Kern Park Flower Shop, which has created bouquets and flower arrangements since 1915 and Save Stores, which has sold sewing machines and vacuum cleaners since 1960.
How will the changing streetscape impact the District?
Matthew: People will finally be able to safely walk and bike to unique, independent locally-owned businesses without having to worry about crossing the street. Fosterarea.com and the Foster District Map will be very useful for helping visitors find Foster businesses during construction.
Allen: I think the decreased speed limit will increase the visibility of the businesses on Foster and the center-turn lane will make it safer to access businesses on both sides of the street regardless of which direction you are going. I think it will increase overall accessibility which is a win for everyone.
Marina: We made sure that we worked closely with our partners – PBOT, Prosper Portland and the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber – to ensure that business wouldn’t be disrupted for anyone on the street. Businesses that depend on freight deliveries will still be able to receive them and that is great.
The Foster Streetscape Project will transform Foster Rd between SE 50th Street and SE 90th Street from a high-speed, auto-oriented corridor into a series of walkable nodes through improved pedestrian crossings and bicycle infrastructure. The Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber has offered free consulting for businesses during the district’s transition to help them take full advantage of the new infrastructure.
What would be your perfect day of food in Foster?
Matthew: For breakfast, I would have the smoky bacon hash bowl at Bar Carlo. It’s amazing! That would probably stuff me for lunch but I would still go get a garlic pork patty banh mi, iced milk coffee and a pastry at An Xuyen Bakery. It’s unreal how affordable it is! For dinner, I would be gluttonous and go to Carts on Foster and go to both Bari and La Arepa because it’s too hard to pick just one! For dessert, I would go to Pod Bar and get a marionberry cider.
Allen: I’d start the day with coffee and a bagel at Pieper Café. They carry Spielman bagels which are great. For lunch, I’d head over to Carts on Foster and see what was cooking over at Road Runner BBQ. Normally I get the Chopped Pork Butt sandwich. Then I’m going to head over to Foster Burger and get the Smokestack which is 2 burgers, BBQ sauce, pork belly and I believe there’s an onion ring involved. That with some fries and a coffee milkshake and then a nap!
Marina: I would start my day at The Egg Carton cart. They have this breakfast sandwich that has goat cheese, arugula, raspberry habanero jam, bacon and a fried egg. It is the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Then I would go get a coffee at Henry Higgins Bagels. They have hand-thrown mugs made by a local potter that make me very happy. After that I would go to Torta-landia for lunch and get their bocadillos which is basically a fried baked potato. It’s ridiculous. Their margaritas are really good too so I would get one of those as well. For dinner, I would end up at Portland Mercado, and get a smoothie from Fruitbox and ropa vieja from Que Bola. For dessert, I would go to Barrio and get a Pineapple cider and then Kaah Market for flan.
Matthew: I think we have the best unknown food in the city!
Bar Carlo serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner with a Mexican flair along with bottomless Stumptown coffee.
An Xuyen Bakery opened in 2001 and produces sandwiches, pastries and bread with Vietnamese, Chinese and French influences.
Pieper Café opened in 2012 and serves Stumptown Coffee, panini, bagels, soups and salads alongside arcade games.
Road Runner BBQ dishes up Texas-style barbeque chicken, brisket and pork with house-made sauce and sides.
Henry Higgins Bagels began as commercial bakery selling bagels to Portland farmers markets. In 2014 they opened a brick and mortar location on Foster Road featuring coffee mugs made by Portland ceramicist Cooper Jeppesen.
Torta-landia is a Mexican restaurant and pub featuring tortas, tacos and burritos made from scratch.
Fruitbox serves fresh juices and smoothies alongside savory ceviches and esquites. Owners Rogelio and Fabiola Cortez originally immigrated to Oregon from Michoacán, Mexico to work on the fruit farms of the Willamette Valley and opened their first Fruitbox in Salem, OR in 2006. Since then they have opened 2 more locations at the Portland Mercado and in Happy Valley, OR.
Que Bola dishes up Cuban food inspired by owner Jose Perez’s upbringing in Havanna, Cuba.
Barrio is a bar and bottle shop in the Portland Mercado that serves beer, wine and Latin American influenced drinks such as sangria and micheladas.
Kaah Market sells fresh produce and dry goods from Latin America and offers house made salsa and tortillas on weekends.
What are some hidden gems in the District that most people might not know about?
Marina: Doctor Nappy Lam is a great dentist in the district. Rose and Dagger Tattoo does traditional-style tattoos with thicker lines with symbolic imagery. George Morlan Plumbing and Mac’s Radiator have been in the district for a long time and they’re great local assets for all our new residents. Foster is also home to many freelancers and home-based businesses that you won’t see when walking down the street like Concise Communications and Steve Turmell Visual Communications. We even have a freelancers group that meets every month!
Allen: Backstory Books! Every time I walk in there’s at least three books right in the front of the store that I need to purchase. Darling Press does amazing artistic printing on antique letterpresses. You are literally buying art to use as your business card or event invitation.
Matthew: Portland Radio Project is a non-profit radio station that doesn’t have commercials during drive time. Their programming is mostly local shows and musicians. Even if you aren’t in the district you can listen online anywhere in the world. The Hallowed Halls is a group of musical businesses that includes a recording studio, record label and guitar shop. There’s even a busking stage out front!
George Morlan Plumbing opened in 1927 and is one of the longest-standing, family-owned businesses in Oregon. Founder George Morlan installed so many water heaters in Portland homes he was dubbed the ‘Water Heater King’, a name that is trademarked by the company to this day.
Mac’s Radiator opened in 1947 and now offers full service auto repair and maintenance at 7 locations in Oregon and Idaho.
Concise Communications offers writing, editing and project management services and has worked with companies such as Apple Computer, Intel and Microsoft.
Darling Press uses a 117 year-old letterpress and offers workshops, life drawing sessions and a retail space. Their greeting cards can be found in retailers across the country.
Portland Radio Project plays a combination of rock, folk, blues and jazz music and features a local artist every 15 minutes.
The Hallowed Halls is housed in the former Arleta-Carnegie Library which was built in 1919. The studio opened in 2015 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.
Other hidden gems in the district include Ginger Salon which was the first B-Corp Certified salon in the US; K & B Bakery which has been baking custom-made fortune cookies and their signature ice cream fortune cookie since 1989; Meticon Bikes, which has been providing bike sales and repair since 2007; Lucky Larder, which hosts canning and pickling classes throughout the city and Bar Maven, a bar and grill decorated with recycled material from local rebuilding centers.
What is the perfect souvenir for a visitor to Foster?
Matthew: A board game or puzzle from Red Castle Games obviously! How about a Golden Girls puzzle? It is our number one selling puzzle if you can believe it. What does that say about our district?
Allen: I’d say an original piece of art from Latch Key Gallery would be a pretty cool souvenir. They have some wild stuff in there like earrings that are made from 9mm shell casings, a lamp made from an old blender and mechanical crab sculptures. They’ve got home furnishings, jewelry, everything. Flat Blak is another great gallery that sells jewelry, furniture and other work from local artists.
Flat Blak Gallery focuses on urban contemporary art and offers artwork for all budgets along with furniture and other accessories.
Other arts related businesses on Foster include SMART Collective, a skateboard shop that hosts art exhibitions, classes and live music; Po’ Boy Art and Framing, which regularly hosts art shows and openings and Foster Row, a 5,000 square foot 1922 building that offers studio spaces for creative businesses.
Matthew, as current President what is your favorite Foster accomplishment?
Matthew: The transformation of FABA meetings has been incredible. It used to be only me and one other person would show up or meetings would be long and unproductive. Now we run timely, well attended meetings where we can be productive because local businesses see the value in it. So many more people are now contributing to what we do!
Marina: The result of this is our base of volunteers has become our strongest asset. Now we have the resources to put on large events like the Tasting Tour and Winter Tree Lighting. We get so much done now that people believe in what we’re doing and work with us to achieve it.
The Foster Winter Tree Lighting takes place every November at Laurelwood Park at the corner of SE Foster Rd and SE Holgate Blvd. After the event, the tree is displayed at various district businesses for the rest of the holiday season. Visit fosterarea.com for exact time.
Allen, as incoming President, what future plans are you most excited about?
Allen: I think the Foster Streetscape Project will be a major transformation for the district. FABA’s job will be to make sure visitors are aware of the changes and working with businesses in the district to define what Foster will become after we get all this great pedestrian and cycling access. It’s an amazing opportunity for us. We are now working with the galleries in the district to promote the Second Saturday Foster Art Walk and it looks like there’s opportunities to expand that beyond just inviting people to check out the art. Now we will be inviting people to check out Foster.
Marina: It’s also important that we use our collaborative spirit to support the long-time businesses that make us who we are while at the same time welcoming our new neighbors so that we can all prosper together.
The Second Saturday Foster Artwalk happens every month from 4-8pm. Visitors to the district can purchase and admire locally produced art in Foster Area businesses and take advantage of special deals and extended hours.