16 long years ago, a cafe called The Fresh Pot opened in as-yet untrendy SE Portland, at 3729 SE Hawthorne Blvd. The year was 1997: the first Harry Potter book was published; James Cameron’s Titanic broke all box office records; and the United Kingdom officially handed back Hong Kong to the Chinese. The first-ever Ozzfest and Lillith Fair concert tours made their rounds across the United States, while the Spice Girls topped the pop charts and Radiohead released OK Computer. Clearly, these were different times.
16 years is a long time by almost any metric, but in the realm of specialty coffee it might as well be eons. So it’s astounding, then, that this coming April 4th the Fresh Pot will be celebrating its 16th year in business by throwing a gala rock and roll blowout at Holocene (1001 SE Morrison), a noted Portland discotheque.
For friends unfamiliar with The FP, it has the distinction of being one of the very first Stumptown Coffee Roasters wholesale clients, all the way back in 1999. They’ve now got 3 locations in Portland – Hawthorne, Mississippi Avenue, and Downtown – and they’re still serving up some of the best shots of Stumptown’s Hairbender espresso you’ll find anywhere.
The Fresh Pot is still owned by original co-founder Matt Vinci – “Vin” to his many friends – who opened the cafe alongside Skip Colombo. These days Skip is the Senior Account Manager for Stumptown Coffee Roasters here in Portland. We had a chance to play “back in the day” with Mr. Colombo, who was super giving of his time and memories.
Sprudge: Skip, this is pretty cool stuff – 16 years of the Fresh Pot! How’s that make you feel, man?
Skip Colombo: “It’s hard to encompass such a huge part of my life in a soundbite, but I’m proud to have been part of the inception of The Fresh Pot – I’m incredibly proud and excited for Vin to have taken the Fresh Pot and grown it, and for all the amazing people that have come through that place and into our lives. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. After 16 years, the Fresh Pot can officially be known as a Portland Institution. I’m proud of it, Stumptown is proud of it, and it makes me feel good – most of all, I’m just incredibly happy for Vin. He deserves accolades – he’s one of the hardest working people i’ve ever met in my *expletive deleted* life. Here we are, 16 years later, and when you go into the Fresh Pot downtown, he’s working the bar, ripping amazing shots of espresso. Kudos to him and everyone who’s been part of the Fresh Pot family.”
Sprudge: Tell us, back in the day, how did Stumptown first get involved?
Skip: “The Hawthorne Fresh Pot predates Stumptown by around a year and change, and I’ll never forget the day Duane Sorenson first walked into the shop. People had already said, “hey, you gotta go check out this place Stumptown, it’s amazing” – but then Duane came in and said, in kind of classic Duane fashion: “Hey, you should come check out our place. The coffee is better.”
So I went out to Division [Stumptown’s original PDX location], and Duane was on bar, pulling shots. I sat down on the bar and it was like having coffee for the first time in my life. It was a level of quality and substance I’d never had in my life. So we shook on it, I hopped back on my bike, went back to Fresh Pot and the rest was history – 15 years later and still serving Stumptown.”
Sprudge: What was SE Portland like in 1997?
Skip: “Man, that was SE Portland in the early days, still really blue collar and a little trashy, to be honest with you. SE Portland, in that area, was mostly a collection biker bars and some seedy characters. But there was such a comraderie and solidarity between the business owners on that street, because it wasn’t NW 23rd – it hadn’t exploded as a destination or shopping district. The best restaurant on the entire Hawthorne strip was 3 Doors Down at that point, and now look at what happened. The neighborhood has just exploded. I remember when Jackpot Records first opened; that changed the neighborhood, and helped bring such an amazing community of musicians – Janet Weiss and Sleater Kinney and Elliott Smith would all come in and get coffee from us. Jackpot was the place you went in town, you could go there and get great records – we would always hook up the Jackpot kids with coffee, and they’d send people across the street to us and trade us great records. We’d play stuff in the shop and then send people across the street to pick up the records…”
Sprudge: Whoa that’s pretty cool. Any other memories stick out?
Skip: “Well, the space that was Fresh Pot had formerly been a Chinese restaurant – all of our pastry and bagel plates were original Chinese restaurant plates, I remember that. Looking back, I was really growing up with the city of Portland and seeing it through the lens of a small independent cafe. The chance for two college buddies from Michigan State – me and Vin – to open a business together on a wing and a prayer, and for that business to survive and thrive for 16 years is pretty radical.
We threw some pretty fun parties, one of which will always stand out. I believe it was an anniversary party at Hawthorne, with a solo show by Hutch Harris [of The Thermals], the Minders, and me and Vin’s indie music idols, Quasi. Vin and I lived in a house with a bunch of dudes when we first opened FP and we cleared out the living room and put a ping pong table in. We wore out Quasi’s “Featuring Birds” on the turntable. It was our early soundtrack of Portland.
The fact that Matthew Vinci (Vin) has remained my friend for 23 years through all the highs and lows of owning a business together, is a testament to him as a person. I’ve never met such a kind, hard-working and loyal person in my life. I’m so happy to see him grow and improve the business. This celebration is for him and his undying commitment to keeping the Fresh Pot relevant and successful. I’ll never forget those early years in starting the Fresh Pot with my best friend. They’re not only my fondest memories of Portland, bust some of the funnest years of my life.”
For more, watch our interview with Skip for the Linea Love campaign:
You, too, can celebrate 16 years of the Fresh Pot. This event on Friday, April 4th is free, open to the public, and kicks off at 8pm. More info here via Facebook!