After 25 years driving taxis, slinging drinks and playing drums around Portland, Holly Morgan realized she needed to come up with some sort of retirement plan.
Then it dawned on her: mushrooms.
A story of mushroom crops grown and bike-delivered by unemployed New Zealand miners inspired Morgan, AGE TK, to enroll in Mercy Corps business classes, travel downstate for cultivation workshops and, toward the end of 2018, purchase a dilapidated mushroom farm in a former St. Johns shipyard, which she rechristened Pals Mushrooms.
“It’s a pretty magical slice of the old-school Portland I didn’t think still existed,” she says of the space, “but, basically, I had bought a broken-down jalopy. I had to literally reboot the farm a dozen times and completely start over just because crazy things kept happening.”
Nevertheless, in little more than a year, Morgan had Pals’ signature blue oyster mushrooms on the menu at some of Portland’s most beloved foodie meccas, including Beast, Urban Farmer and Sweedeedee. After the pandemic effectively shuttered the industry, she pivoted once again, tapping her 12-plus years of experience as a driver for Radio Cab and shifting to home delivery.
“Honestly,” she says, “my knowledge of the streets saved the business.”
Bringing as little as 1 pound to doorsteps anywhere within Portland city limits for a minimal charge, Morgan’s residential delivery program kept Pals afloat through the elongated COVID shutdown. But when the local economy began to reawaken early this spring, she started shopping the business to fund a long-awaited return to Michigan.
After showing the shipping containers to more than 30 interested parties, Morgan sold the farm to her neighbor, Kris Young. Morgan will stay on as part of the new collective, which plans to steadily add more members, though not species—the oyster, Young says, remains the company’s “bread and butter.”
“They’re so meaty that I’ve actually had vegan customers tell me they felt weird and kind of guilty,” Morgan laughs. “I’ve had to reassure people that the mushrooms want to be eaten. Allow them the gift of nourishing you. You’re not hurting them. You’re fulfilling their destiny.”