Chef Bradley of Po'Shines

Po’Shines Café de la Soul: Serving Food and Justice

Seven years ago, while skateboarding with his two young kids in the cozy North Portland neighborhood of Kenton, Chef James Bradley popped his head in the open door of a little corner diner to see what was going on. At the time, the breakfast cafe known as Friday’s Espresso was in transition to become Po’Shines Cafe De La Soul, with a new focus on soul food and BBQ.

Bradley quickly learned the soul food restaurant was a part of the neighborhood church, Celebration Tabernacle, and its mission extended beyond serving great food. Po’Shines would be a non-profit restaurant that trained at-risk youth and young adults.

That day, Bradley made the decision to go all in. He left his full-time job to volunteer all of his time and much of his savings to make Po’Shines work. Bradley knows that this intersection in his life was no coincidence. “I’m the Pastor’s Kid who left the house at 18 and didn’t look back. As I went out into the world, I made sure to live—and I mean LIVE,” Bradley says. “However, a lot of my decisions weren’t the best. When I found Po’Shines, it was definitely time for a change in my life.”

Bradley and his crew have worked very hard over the past seven years to build and grow Po’Shines, as well as to bring fresh breath to the culture of soul food. “There is so much history in soul food,” says Bradley, “but over the years the health aspect of it has taken a turn for the worst.”

Bradley also serves as a personal chef to Pastor E.D. Mondaine, lead Pastor at Celebration Tabernacle. Growing up in St. Louis, Mondaine had been raised on a traditional soul food diet. Grease, butter, pork and salt were all major staples. When Mondaine started having heart problems in his early 40s, he knew it was time to make some major changes.

That’s where Bradley stepped in. “I knew I couldn’t just completely change his concept of food,” says Bradley. “I needed to keep the heart and soul of the food he was used to but introduce a more conscious way to approach it.” Bradley set about to eventually remove all meats and fish from Mondaine’s diet and introduce him to a mostly vegan cuisine.

One year into Po’Shines’ transformation, Bryant Terry came through Portland on his first book tour. Terry and Po’Shines found each other, and Po’Shines ended up collaborating on Terry’s food demonstration in Portland.

“It was encouraging to know that there were other people out there, trying to open up the conversation about soul food,” says Bradley. “The audience that Terry is able to reach, and the recipes that he shares, make it attainable for people to think consciously about the food they eat and make for their families, without forsaking their cultural roots and traditions.”

Bradley and his Po’Shines crew are very excited to be working with Terry again. “Sometimes it’s easy to feel alone when you’re trying to do something that most people view as unconventional,” says Bradley. “So whenever I get a chance to see Terry or flip through one of his books or articles, it reminds me that there are other people out there fighting the good fight.”

Chef Bradley and his staff at Po’Shines provided the tastings for the Bryant Terry event on May 16. The tastings included recipes from Afro-Vegan, Terry’s new cookbook, as well as Chef Bradley’s recipes from the Fresh Start and Po’Shines menu. (Fresh Start is a community-based organization that offers wellness guidance for at-risk individuals.)

This post was contributed by Mackenzie Doyle, Manager, Po’Shines Cafe De La Soul.

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