Ten Years and Counting

Ten years sure is a long time, but have you ever wondered how the Red and Black got started?

This is a brief history of the cafe for folks who don’t know it.  For the ones that do know it, we hope it brings back lots of good memories for you.



The Red & Black Café opened for business at 2138 SE Division Street on October 15th, 2000.  The day before it had been the Flying Saucer Café, which was purchased with loans from many folks in the community and the IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World). These loans ranged in size from $100 to $7,000, totaling about $35,000.  Many of the founding members were active IWW members and participants in other local collectives.  

Over the next 7 years, the Café became a successful restaurant, venue, and community space. We hosted many events, including benefit shows, film screenings, and readings.  We stopped serving turkey (the only meat product on the original menu) and became increasingly vegan-friendly.  We starting buying more local and organic ingredients, and began composting our food and paper waste.

We also became more business-savvy, and established systems for bookkeeping, pricing, reducing overhead, and marketing.  We worked to develop and formalize a collective structure that promotes equality, transparency, and accountability.  Eventually, we adopted a consensus decision-making process.  Finally, we developed mutually supportive relationships with our neighbors and allies in Portland’s radical community.


Unfortunately, our former landlord sold the SE Division building to Northrim Development in early 2007.  The new owners announced plans to renovate and then double (maybe even triple!) the rent after our lease ended in the fall.

Our search for a new location began in the spring of 2007.  However, we found very few viable options.  Portland’s inner east side was undergoing rapid development and dramatic price hikes.  We were effectively priced out of our old neighborhood.  However, we were unwilling to move to a newly gentrifying neighborhood, where our presence might contribute to rising property values and displacement.

We closed at our SE Division location in September of 2007 and moved our equipment into storage.  About half of our workers resigned between June and October, but a small group continued to search for a new location.

In December of 2007, we signed a lease at 400 SE 12th Avenue. With the help of our supportive community, we raised enough money to repair our equipment and purchase supplies.  We also hired several talented new workers to help us reopen the café.  After a frantic month of moving, renovating, and preparing a new and improved all-vegan food menu, we opened for business on January 11th, 2008.

Our new location is in Buckman, a vibrant mixed-income neighborhood with permanent affordable housing.  Our neighbors include CityBikes, a worker-owned bike shop, Laughing Horse Books, a collectively-run infoshop, the vegan “mini mall,” KBOO community radio, and the Saint Francis Church, home to many social justice programs.

The Red and Black Cafe is a founding member of the Portland Alliance of Worker Collectives (PAWC).  We joined the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC) in September of 2006, and we became a closed IWW shop in October of 2009.


Who can know what will happen after this milestone? We live in turbulent times. The shadows of a nightmarish recession still loom overhead, state repression is afflicting our communities more than ever, war still rages on in the lands of our friends and comrades, and ecological collapse is on the lips of many. Despite this, it brings us great joy to have made our space available to you for the past ten years.  We assure you, though – we’re not done yet.  Here’s to another ten years!


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