Is this a joke? Colonial eatery moves onto N. Williams Ave.

Update (3/19/16): There is an action being organized to address the theme and name of Saffron Colonial on March 19, 2016. Here is the open letter and the Facebook event.  And a wonderful piece written on S. Colonial’s juxtaposition with actual colonialism. (Zahir Janmohamed)


According to PDX Eater, a restaurant called Saffron Colonial is opening on N. Williams Avenue. “It serves the globally inspired dishes from the height of the British Empire,” writes Mattie John Bamman.


Photo courtesy of PDX Eater

If I didn’t know better, I’d think PDX Eater was trolling us. An early April Fools? But no. This is serious.

A restaurant that celebrates colonialism exists. And it exists on N. Williams Avenue. You are blowing my mind here, Portland.

Let’s do a brief history review that N. Williams Avenue, and all its cheerleaders, have clearly forgotten.

This street was once known as the Black Downtown of Portland. For many decades this street was filled with Black-owned businesses, including grocery stories and social clubs. The street thrived.

In the late 20th century, Portland let the neighborhood rot. Disinvestment with the existing  street was met with freeway construction that destroyed the neighborhood. The city even scooped up acres of land for a hospital that was never developed. The Black community was “forced out.”

Image 13_Black history display board.JPG

Forced out: A poster from a 2012 public meeting about the N. Williams Avenue bicycle lane


Fast forward to the 2010s and BOOM! Condos! Fancy restaurants! Condos!  More condos! Eco condos! That Black social club? Gone. Ethiopian restaurant? Gone too. Save for two Black churches and one t-shirt production studio, pretty much any reminder that the Black community called this street their home is gone.

2014-08-11 14.23.03

Graffiti on closed business, surrounded by new development construction, 2014

2014-08-11 14.20.03

Construction on North Williams Avenue, 2014


Here’s the bike angle you have been waiting for:

During this recent era of redevelopment, bicycle advocates wanted to reconstruct the bicycle lane on N. Williams. This ask erupted into a very important debate between advocates and longtime community members about how bicycle lanes can be a part of gentrification. The debate got a lot of media attention and it put the spotlight on the hyper-gentrification happening on the street. It wasn’t just about a bicycle lane. It was about the Black population being forced out once again. If you are super curious, Ch 3 of my dissertation (and my upcoming book) talks about this conflict in detail.

The advocates got their bicycle lane. The concerned community members got some sort of promise that N. Williams Avenue will have historical landmarks to remind current residents what this street used to represent for the Black community.

I am not sure what landmarks could make up for putting a “British empire” restaurant on the street. A restaurant that symbolizes how white people conquered Black and Brown people. On a street that “conquered” Black people by pushing them out. If that is not a giant middle finger to the Black community, I am not sure what is.  


56 thoughts on “Is this a joke? Colonial eatery moves onto N. Williams Ave.

  1. No, it’s not a joke, and I’m glad someone else has noticed the casually imperialist white supremacy just chilling up in here, unchallenged. The question is: are others going to see, and are we going to rise up against it? Can we achieve critical mass to stop it, even reverse it?

    Another example of what is going on is the ridiculously offensive new “Union Apartments” on MLK and Multnomah St. (Union Ave. was the name of MLK prior to 1989, and old signage for it can still be seen on random buildings). When launched, they advertised “be an urban pioneer” – in an area that was, a few decades ago, completely razed of its housing so as to remove black people.

    The forced displacement is still happening, even now, and will be tomorrow and the next day. And the week after that. You posted a photo of new apartments being built. Those apartments are where there were houses – 105-year-old houses that were home to families of color until, I shit you not, only days before they were demolished.

    I really hope the uprising against this kind of thing happens sooner than later.

    Re: those acres scooped up. This was Russell and Williams. It was the center of the City of Albina and the center of black life. It was utterly vanquished, nothing but the empty field remains today.

    • There is great history of this on the pdc website and acknowledging the gross behavior in the 50s and 60s. I believe they may have an article about the raid at the left bank building when Billy Holiday Was performing. But again I feel this blogger is contributing nothing and is missing the real issues related to this neighborhood or its history.

      • But I do hope people take the time to understand what the pdc did in the 50s and 60s because it was disgusting and they acknowledge it. Our city/state has a history of engrained structural racism and to be empathetic it should be shared. When they built the i-5 they strategically removed all non-white neighborhoods. HERE! INTENTIONALLY! The African American neighborhood actually was down by the coliseum and across the 5 up the hill to N WILLIAMS where only the rotunda remains. Emmanuel hospital and those empty fields…its appalling. And truly truly sad. White flight and redlining left neighborhoods in disrepair where you and I live and the displaced population moved up the hill. Across the river in SW by the Harrison that was all immigrants and mostly non English speaking immigrant (Jews and Italians mostly) they weren’t proved translators and most were swindled (though not as bad as the vanport residents) and left to the burbs.

  2. I appreciate your point…but, and it is a pregnant but, the awful discrimination and redling that led to this now 50 years into transformation and has passed (ish). The truth, and I have lived in the neighborhood for a while (on and off for 20 years) and my partner owns the business right across from this building (12 years now), is that many African American youth I spoke with have no interest in this community’s too old..that breaks my heart. I love Sundays when the entire neighborhood sounds of gospel. There is another sad fact that many affluent black families sold out and left 20 years ago. I’m glad there is a resurgence of families wanting to invest back in the neighborhood, it is in desperate for culture (hip ain’t culture). Come home. Reinvest. Start a business.

  3. I’ll just say A) I’m not from Oregon but B) I know the Chef at this restaurant, and there is no conspiracy plot of white supremacists, they just want to cook English food…… the wild assumptions and extremist-politically correct points of view surrounding this place just dilute any real message you may have for things that actually matter — unlike a theme restaurant. Get all pissed off about everything, and no one will listen to you about things that actually matter.

    • You know, maybe if the restaurant had a different name and a different way of presenting itself your comment could be taken seriously. But the colonialism is right in the name.

    • I know that guy too. Not only is he a loud mouthed drunken racist, but he can’t cook. “I fry an egg after it’s been soft cooked to add a depthnes of flavor and texture…” Bullshit. He refries an egg because he fucked it up the first time.

    • “…they just want to cook English food…” I’ll go out on a limb & assume that they know the English language. That being the case, one would think they could come up with an inoffensive or more “neutral” name. As for getting all pissed off, perhaps you’ve missed the history. The Black Community, People of Color, Minorities – including women SHOULD be pissed off! If you’re a decent human being living in Portland, in Oregon, In the US, on Planet Earth, you should be pissed off. Of course, some people are too busy deciding what “actually matters” to concern themselves with what’s important to someone else.

  4. All true, except the last bit about “putting” a British Empire restaurant on the street. That implies a “they” in this situation, as if the city was opening this restaurant as some final Fuck You to the black community. The only “they” here is the owners of said restaurant, and while clearly they are idiots or assholes or both, they probably are from Cali and don’t know shit about the history of Williams.

      • Actually, the woman who owns it isn’t from Hong Kong, she’s a native Portlander who has been in Hong Kong for 20 years.

    • civil war……war of independence there are different things guys british colonialism has nothing to do with slavery

      • You’re saying that Colonialism has nothing to do with slavery? As in British empire colonialism? Seriously?

      • The British Empire had slavery for a long time. Especially in Jamaica and their other Caribbean colonies until the 1800s.

    • “That implies a “they” in this situation, as if the city was opening this restaurant as some final Fuck You to the black community.” ::: the city does have say in what developments are approved. this street has been the focus of such much community backlash that I am disappointed in a lack of foresight on at least the name, on top of the theme of the food.

  5. not surprised one iota…very unfortunate and mind boggleing that people would be so clueless and insensitive they pillage the village…but not surprised these developer’s and entrmanures give zero F_ _ KS about any of these communities they buying into

  6. omfg. are you people serious. you do know the civil war and the war of independence are different right? that colonialism has nothing to do with slavery like literally nothing to do with slavery. it had everything to do with the establishment of america. the civil war nearly 100 years later had to do with slavery. you people are ignorant.

    • “Colonialism has literally nothing to do with slavery”.
      A) Wow.
      2) Defend this position with documented facts. Go ahead, we’ll wait.
      C) are you serious like you do know that england had colonies all over the world not just north america right?

      Seriously, five minutes on Google before you say shit like this. Start with
      British Empire colony slavery
      and read up and then come back here and explain to us some more…

    • As if the Civil War culminated over night? “The establishment of America” was brought to you by slaves: Black slaves, Native slaves, Irish slaves, child slaves….Shall I continue? YOU should educate yourself, and check your privilege, before you call people ignorant again.

  7. Well, barbecue came out of slavery, so every BBQ joint must be celebrating slavery! Don’t you know the literally everything is racist!?

  8. Portland Blvd. was renamed for Rosa Parks the lady who refused to sit at the back of the bus. Yet there is no bus line on the formerly named Portland Blvd.

  9. There’s a public art project that looks to be pretty in your face about the history of the street being done by an af am couple through RACC.

  10. Geez you’d think the red coats were burning down houses to make way for condos. There are real issues related to displacement from gentrification, this article and topic are dissociative drivel to placate white guilt. Do something to make a difference this is nonsense to go after this business owner. (and there is a long history of this neighborhood…even before it was primarily black…you know that right? The Killingsworths? Take on a real issue! Affordability, food and grocery (yup new seasons is what you should have targeted your anger towards), education, and opportunities for employment.

    • In my book that is coming out this summer I talk at length about New Seasons and I have mentioned it in this blog in the past. This restaurant is just another example of the “New Seasoning” of N. Williams, if you will.

  11. Ps this writer isn’t even from here!!! She moved fro. The Midwest. So…she feels guilty. Do something helpful!

  12. Wow this blogger isn’t even from here!!! She moved here for the affordability? Lives in Ne? And is biker rider….should I start at how gross this is… I believe the bumper sticker reads “save the world, kill yourself”. Honey them bike paths were a waste of money that should have been spent on helping the community you are concerned about…but you’re riding them on your entitled soapbox.

    • I live in Minneapolis. I visit Portland often and my PhD work is partially based on this street. I wrote extensively about the problem with the bike lanes (this is primarily a bike blog) and I never supported the bike lane being reconstructed due to the community history (although my support is moot b/c I don’t live there). I have a big issue with bike lanes as my book title, Bike Lanes are White Lanes, illustrates.

      • Well we live here and you should also know they changes them 3 times in 5 years wasting money as the black business left and were driven out because of inaccessible.

      • As I have noted in other comments, I am *well* aware of the history and educated myself a lot about this street. This restaurant is simply another nail in the coffin. It is not my only point of analysis.

  13. Which leads me to wonder is the PDC still involved in planned displacement of the community? Third times a charm city planning and all on this street over the last 5 years.

  14. Wow, Portland anti-ism takes it to a new level. An interest in colonial cuisine ≠ a promotion of colonialism. Almost literally every dish now considered “Indian food” came about as a result either of (1) the Mughal conquest of India (the introduction of meat and biryani), or (2) the British Empire (tomatoes and chiles are New World plants). Would it be fair to say that every India restaurant is promoting colonialism? Would it be fair to say that if someone tried to recreate the food of the Umayyad Caliphate? Clearly not. But consistency would require the anti-ism people to decry these as well.

  15. Going to protest Southern cooking any time soon, silly little SJWs? Southern food is a blend of European (Colonial!), Native American, and African cooking. I love to eat it while sitting in my three bedroom Colonial-style house in Maryland. Grow up and find a real thing to get bent out of shape over. You are the reason the right wing nuts call us libtards. I’m sure my comment will be deleted.

  16. Good grief. .there is Colonial Penn Insurance, and Colonial architecture.The word ‘colonial ‘is wrongly associated with slavery. Look it up in the dictionary. Did you forget that Blacks were living there in the first place because of racism. Now many have moved to outlying areas and whites have been living in the Albina Neighborhood well before gentrification.

    Great Britain is our strongest ally and the restaurant is selling food, not slavery. It’s time leave the past where it is and move on and live in the present.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s