Naomi Pomeroy wasn't necessarily ready to say goodbye to Beast when it closed indefinitely in March due to COVID-19. But she wasn't going to shed a tear over it, either.
Instead of pivoting to takeout, like many Portland restaurants were forced to do to try to ride out the pandemic, Pomeroy has spent the past eight months focusing on how to keep the industry alive. She is one of the founding members of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, which is calling for lawmakers to secure more relief for food and drink establishments by passing the Restaurants Act introduced earlier this year by Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer.
Still, Pomeroy wanted to stay involved in the local food scene, but didn't see a future where she could utilize Beast's small, 600-square-foot dining room in the new, socially distanced world in the same way as before.
"What were we going to do? Charge $400 a person?" she says. "It didn't feel like the time to pivot to something extra exclusive. I wanted to do something that would feel true to me. No one is coming back to sitting at a big communal table."
Pomeroy then got the idea for "gourmet convenience"—a community market, with an online presence, that offered all of the things customers loved about Beast, but without the need to consume anything onsite, or risk having soggy food show up on customers' doorsteps.
"Instead of trying to make this square peg fit into this round hole," she says, "I just want to make something that fits exactly into this new reality."
Pomeroy's new venture is Ripe Cooperative, which she aims to launch at the end of November. The market will offer fresh pastas, bread, wine, and box meals to go for customers to finish at home. The kits will continue her mission of taking the mystery out of cooking, which was one of the things she loved most about her 13 years at Beast.
"I wanted to see how much we could empower people to be partially responsible for the production of their food," explains Pomeroy, "so that they had a little bit of an educational moment."
Pomeroy says she is lucky to be able to take this kind of risk right now, even if it brings added expenses. She knows independent restaurants feel pressure to survive but can't do much without assistance from the government. That's why she's focused her efforts on saving those businesses and not on her own future in the experimental dining space. Sure, she expects a seismic shift in the industry within the next year. But don't necessarily expect Beast to be resurrected.
"I might never open another restaurant," Pomeroy says. "If it's meant to be back, it'll be back."
UPDATE: Pomeroy expected a second shutdown and doesn't anticipate Ripe Cooperative will be too affected by it. She will continue to offer takeout for the foreseeable future.