Interview with Jessie Burke
Owner of Posies Bakery and Café
Crown jewel of Nopo, Kenton is experiencing an economic revival as new small businesses open up shop in the historic business district on and around Denver Avenue. The recipient of government dollars from an Urban Renewal Projec 2000 t, Kenton has changed a lot in a short time. Now able to boast a booming commercial district within walking distance of home, Kenton is an ideal place for families to settle, and nightly the neighborhood is loud with the laughter of children and adults alike. Sitting at the center of this revitalization is Posies Bakery and Café.
Perfect for both coffee on the way to work or relaxing with the paper, Posies boasts an open and comfortable atmosphere offering overstuffed chairs and couches as well as a playroom for the kids. No doubt a boon to many parents who send their kids to the playroom and relax—the kids don’t seem to mind. Posies serves Ristretto Roasters coffee and espresso drinks, a huge selection of daily made pastries by in-house pastry chef Terri Burke, artisanal sandwiches, and Bowery bagels. They also serve something called drinking vinegars, new to me, they are heavenly fruit and vegetable syrups preserved with vinegar and sweetened with real sugar. Shipped in from Tait Farm in Pennsylvania, they are representative of owner and secret neighborhood advocate, Jessie Burke’s overall mission. I had a chance to talk to Jessie after enjoying my latté.
BePortland: What would you say your motivation was for opening Posies Café and Bakery?
Jessie Burke: I’ve lived in the Kenton neighborhood for about 8 years, and when I first moved here the neighborhood didn’t have anywhere to go to (laughs). It was an urban renewal area meaning that there were government dollars that were going to develop it, but nothing was happening at the time so I felt like somebody needed to do something, so I opened posies.
What role does Posies fulfill in the neighborhood?
JB: I would say it has become a community-gathering place for both the neighborhood but also the business community. One of my hypotheses in my business plan was that unlike restaurants where after you pay you’re expected to leave, [with] coffee shops you can stay as long as you like, which the community does, and we welcome them to do so.
What was your process in creating Posies?
JB: What I initially wanted to create was an atmosphere that was very much like the house that I grew up in. There was never a question if my friends could stay over for dinner, everyone as always allowed. There always was plenty of food and everyone was always nice to visitors. So I lured my mother here form the east coast (laughs), where she was a French trained pastry chef in Washington D.C. I told her that I was pretty sure that I could pay her the same rate, and that she’d only have to commute one mile instead of two hours. Because her pastries are also sort of the home life that she had created for me growing up, it was also critical to the culture that I wanted to create here.
Is your idea of inclusiveness part of your reasoning behind the playroom?
JB: The original vision for Posies has transitioned slightly: after I had my daughter I discovered that everybody loves you when you’re pregnant and they hate you when you have kids (laughs). There were only a few coffee shops that stay at home parents could go to that were equally as entertaining to children, which is a major stress reliever for parents. One of them was called Sip and Crance in the Pearl
District. One day they were sold, and the new owners closed the children’s room. I noticed a bunch of parents, myself included, sort of jaw-dropped not knowing what to do with their children then—and I saw it as a niche that needed to be filled….We emphasize that everyone is allowed to be here.
You’ve lived here 8 years and been in business 3 years, how would you compare how you’ve perceived Kenton and particularly the business district in the time before and after opening posies?
JB: When I first moved here, I think there were one or two convenience stores, a liquor store, two window stores, a Laundromat, and maybe one or two retail stores. Since that time the Portland development commission has invested two million dollars in the improvement our streetscape: widening sidewalks, putting down new beautiful gray pavement (laughs), installing trees, bio-soils, lampposts, trashcans, bicycle racks, and we’ve acquired a couple of new businesses. Also, the businesses community has changed a lot, in a way that it’s an actual business community instead of a series of isolated business owners that are always looking out for everyone’s best interests. For each other, but also the good of the neighborhood overall.
As I left Posies I couldn’t help but notice how wide the sidewalks are in Kenton. The Max Yellow Line drops you across the street from the historic district, and the 4 and 6 buses get you even closer. Also offering an excellent public library, and a host of other great businesses, a farmers market on Fridays, homes and apartments, Posies is the homemade frosting on the many-layered cake that is Kenton, Crown Jewel of North Portland.