Is a Restaurant Serving ‘British Colonial’ Food Racist?
How do you get noticed in the burgeoning Portland, Oregon, food scene? Open up a restaurant that glorifies dishes created by the British while running their former colonies.
While it may sound like a sketch right out of hit satiric IFC comedy Portlandia, the drama unfolding in the city’s streets is certainly no joke. Saffron Colonial (4120 N. Williams) has just opened (and doesn’t even have a proper sign yet) but has already caused quite a sensation.
This past Saturday there was a Stop Romanticizing Colonialism! march, which, owner Sally Krantz told The Daily Beast, led to 20 protesters storming the restaurant demanding that the name and the menu be changed.
“We will NOT accept the glorification of colonialism in our community, particularly in a neighborhood that has a painful legacy of black & brown folks being displaced,” states the Facebook page for the march.
The group also wrote an open letter to Krantz, which includes their view of her restaurant’s cuisine. “While molasses cookies and sausage rolls may come to mind for you when you think of British colonialism, many of us associate it with forced religious conversion/cultural erasure, famine.”
The reaction so far has “totally surprised me, didn’t even occur to me,” said Krantz, who is a Portland native and lived in Hong Kong for 20 years working as an advertising executive and owned a small chain of bakeries. (Her children go to school in the U.K. but otherwise she has no connection to the country.)
Her intention was to “focus on something positive,” said Krantz. “The outcome of joining two cultures.” And she is still confident in her concept. “It’s still food enjoyed today and should be celebrated.”
She stands behind serving such classic English dishes as Kedgeree (rice, curry, smoked haddock and soft boiled eggs) and Devilled Kidneys (lamb kidneys on toast; which the menu calls “A Victorian favourite!”). And she still plans to offer a breakfast inspired by Winston Churchill’s own personal menu, which may include a cigar, despite charges from some of the protesters that he was a white supremacist.
Was she concerned? “Most people like Winston Churchill,” said Krantz. “Quite a fun thing to have a Winston Churchill breakfast.” The Tortolan Plantation Press cocktail’s name has also drawn attention and ire.
But many of the dishes, including Oatmeal Brulée, Flapjack Granola, and an Eggy Cinnamon Brioche, aren’t that sensational and most likely wouldn’t have drawn much attention if she had just called the establishment Saffron. (The restaurant, with shiny poured concrete floors, modernist chairs, and a garage door wall, certainly could be mistaken for any trendy restaurant in the U.S.)
But if anything her resolve to celebrate the former British Empire has seemingly gotten stronger from these clashes with protesters and the media.
She insisted that her use of the term is no different than the businesses in New England that use “colonial” in their names and said she was being singled out because she’s helping to gentrify the neighborhood.
“I’m not planning on changing my menu,” Krantz said. “Nobody is protesting Southern cuisine. Nobody is protesting Arab cuisine. I’m not sure where that stops.”
What does she say to charges that she’s a racist? “I’m one of the most liberal people you can meet,” said Krantz. “If I was racist I wouldn’t live in the neighborhood.”