The first time E.D. Mondainé Jr. showed up on this street in the heart of North Portland’s Kenton neighborhood he wanted to get back in the car and leave.
You have to understand this was in 1996, a time before organic beer, precious pastries, and kale salads became trendy staples in a gentrifying neighborhood.
What happened on this street is a testament to a putting down roots and taking a risk, not only on a building and neighborhood, but on people needing a second chance at life.
“We feed souls and stomachs,” said Mondainé, 57. “We see God’s presence everywhere and in all things.”
The journey began when Mondainé’s friends drove him over to look at the block, on Denver Avenue off Lombard Street to see a building that might make a site for his growing church, which he’d started eight years earlier in Northeast Portland. He’d outgrown the building and needed to move.
The building, a former bar, needed work. The neighborhood was filled with riff-raff including drug dealers, criminals, and prostitutes. Nine bars were packed into a three-block area.
But a man of deep faith listens not to his head, but to a higher power that enters his heart.
“I went to the prayer closet,” said Mondainé. “I eventually said yes.” And so Celebration Tabernacle Church relocated and became part of a thriving street that slowly evolved. At the prior location, food had been a part of church life. “Old church school, southern Baptist style,” Mondainé said. He continued the tradition, but saw a need to start something more at the Kenton location. “I knew I was there to help,” he said. “I was open to what ever that was. I grew up in south side of St. Louis in the projects. I know what extreme poverty is all about.”
He moved to the metro area in 1988 from St. Louis where he’d served as a minister for at a Baptist church, following stints as an associate pastor and minister of music at several St. Louis churches.
Two years after moving into the building, Mondainé, with the help of the church board, took over a small building next to the church. They opened Po’shines Café De Le Soul, a restaurant that features soul food and a Cajun-influenced menu.
They then started a six-week culinary school at another building in Northeast Portland, offering scholarships to people who wanted to learn the trade. That grew to a catering business that also serves food at The Rose Garden. After graduating from the school, the students are hired to work at Po’shines, either in catering or at the restaurant. They run the cash register, order food, supplies, and wait tables and learn to cook. What they get is the experience to put on a resume.
“I hope that I can be an example of what someone from the ghetto can become,” he said. “The path for an African-American male can be treacherous. My nephew in St. Louis was just shot 15 times. He lived, but his older brother was shot and killed. Three of my nephews have been killed. I just buried a godson.” Po’shines, Mondainé said, offers a path to a better life,
A man of deep faith listens not to his head, but to a higher power that enters his heart.
“We help people who’ve lost their way,” he said. “Our executive chef was once sleeping under a bridge. He’s now married, has a functional family and is raising his children.”
Running a church is different than running a business, said Mondainé, who draws on help from his board and trusted advisors.
“In ministry, we’re always giving things away,” he said. “The restaurant and business,” he said, “has to make money to sustain itself.”
The Kenton restaurant has become a place for people of all different ages, races, and beliefs, or non-beliefs, to meet. The preaching, Mondaine said with a laugh, stays in the church. But to gather over a meal, even if people sit at different tables, is to find nourishment in good company.
“We see mighty changes,” Mondainé said. “Yes, we do.”
One recent day, Mondainé dropped in and made the rounds by visiting each table, greeting the patrons with a smile, handshake, and pat on the back.
“How are you?” “Thank you for being here.” “It’s so good to see you again.” He sat at a table, and looked at a staff hard at work. “We see mighty changes,” Mondainé said. “Yes, we do.” The front door opened, and a man stepped inside. “Welcome, my friend,” Mondainé called out in a voice that filled the room. “Welcome.”
–Tom Hallman Jr. email@example.com; 503 221-8224 @thallmanjr