Portland, Oregon is a city of craft-focused entrepreneurs where many of the ideas for successful small businesses start from chance conversations among friends. Recognizing this, Jason French and Michelle Battista of Ned Ludd—an intimate Portland restaurant known to source artisanal, local ingredients, all cooked in a small, wood-fired oven—gathered together the founders of several local companies: Rejuvenation, a lighting and hardware company; Colorhouse, a Portland-based company that manufactures eco-friendly, low-odor paints; the leather-working company Tanner Goods; florist Hilary Horvath; and Kiriko, an apparel manufacturer who works with ancient Japanese fabrics.
The result was an interactive evening called A Mercantile Meal, in honor of Colorhouse and Rejuvenation’s new collaboration. Called The Mercantile Collection, it's comprised of a palette of rich, elegant paints in separate color families, named after items available for purchase at general stores—chalk, tea, seed, denim, flint and spice.
The communal meal took place at Elder Hall, French and Battista's recently opened event space with a full commercial kitchen next door to Ned Ludd’s. Evidence of the guests' talents were patent: spin art made with the Mercantile paint decorated each place setting, Rejuvenation contributed the chandeliers that lit up the dining hall and Horvath contributed bundles of hydrangeas and zinnias, while Kirikomade contributed the beautiful handmade quilt that hung behind the bar. Together, the assorted guests—who work at a variety of Portland companies like Mazama Wares and Jacobsen Salt—put together the flower arrangements, painted place settings, stamped and stapled leather napkin rings from Tanner Goods, and snacked on corn fritters and fennel tonnato while waiting for dinner to be served.
“We are makers, and we wanted to involve you in the process of the making,” said French in his opening remarks. “It’s a part of what makes Portland really special.” Of course, the focal point of the evening was its location, Elder Hall, decorated with what French has described as Shaker-inspired simplicity—the upshot of a successful Kickstarter to turn the space into a rustic dining room. Here they will host lectures and meetings, tastings, showcases and small chef dinners, and even summer camps where children can learn how to grow, cook and taste food.
Guests took their seats and dinner was served—a typically simple, gracious Ned Ludd meal of local fare, that started with a caprese-style salad and a pot pie of Oregon seafood, then moved to milk-braised pork with caponata and warm grapes before ending with strawberry ice, sugar cookies and Riesling jelly.
“In some ways, [food] producers have a much more interesting story [than mine],” said French. “We’re a medium between the producers and the public. There are strong problems in our food systems, and small gatherings of thinkers are a way to help clarify and create solutions for those problems. We want to work for people, not necessarily just for profit.”
For more information on Elder Hall, visit Ned Ludd’s website.
Images courtesy of Stuart Mullenberg