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.”

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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.

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

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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.