In the Beginning…

Merry Mackinnon  The Bee – Features October 2, 2007

Grateful neighbors praise new Woodstock restaurant

Portland residents generally love their neighborhood restaurants, but it isn’t often that a neighborhood is as gleeful about a new restaurant as Woodstock apparently is about ‘Toast’, which opened August 18th at 5222 S.E. 52nd Avenue, at Steele.

‘The whole neighborhood is happy,’ exults Janis Wigg, an independent realtor who works from her nearby Woodstock home, and who now takes her clients to ‘Toast Neighborhood Restaurant’.

‘The eggs are from free-range chickens, they serve a basil Bloody Mary with chunks of tomato in it, and they make their own black currant lemonade. Everything is fresh and natural,’ adds Wigg, a former President of the Woodstock Community Business Association (WCBA). ‘I’m taking everybody I know there.’

And owner Donald Kotler is pleased by the turnout. Shortly after his restaurant opened, crowds began showing up for brunch, especially on Saturdays and Sundays. ‘So far, the neighborhood has really supported us,’ he says.

Next, Kotler is planning to put a bench outside, so customers waiting in line can sit down.

The only people, according to Kotler, who seemed disappointed that Toast had renovated and opened one of the storefront spaces in the building near the corner of Southeast 52nd and Steele, were the two men who skulked into the restaurant’s back door one day, looking for the adult video and bookstore that used to be there.

‘Thank heaven that adult bookstore is gone,’ says a grateful Wigg. ‘We kept thinking, if we don’t look at it, it will go away.’

But, for eight years, ever since Kotler moved to the Woodstock neighborhood, he had been eyeing the adult bookstore’s location, and imagining a restaurant there. ‘I thought Woodstock needed a great breakfast place,’ recalls Kotler, who has worked in the restaurant industry for 22 years. ‘I looked at the bookstore, and I thought, one day I’m going to sell waffles and beer out of there.’

Toast doesn’t actually sell waffles, but the three chefs who work shifts there do prepare flapjacks and a variety of egg dishes – for example, poached eggs over a homemade sausage patty and chard, on top of a house-made English muffin, finished with a béarnaise sauce. Another features two eggs over easy, on top of seared chicken breast and a potato rosti, drizzled with herb oil.

‘We serve downtown-quality food at neighborhood prices,’ explains Kotler.

Not only does ‘Toast’ serve homemade bread and muffins, but Kotler buys mostly local and organic produce and Northwest meats. ‘We’ll be buying from Your Backyard Farmer and from Sauvie Island – all organic, and all sustainable,” he says.

Supporting ‘sustainability’ also means that Kotler, as do half of the ten employees currently working at Toast, not only lives in the neighborhood, but either walks or rides a bike to work.

Neighbors strolled by and chatted as Kotler and others rehabbed the storefront, and they also were asking if he planned to serve dinner. Taking those suggestions, Kotler says that ‘Toast’ serves dinner, too. The entrees include tofu and veggies, burgers, pork, and hangar steak. ‘We have something for the meat eater, for the vegan and for the vegetarian,’ assures Kotler.

The fresh coat of paint on the restaurant has brought new vitality to the corner. And the street corner now has something else: Courtesy of the City of Portland, there’s now a series of bicycle racks in front.

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