Since early summer, Chris “Salty” Reed and his wife, Cindy Reed, have worked to bring new life to a charming downtown storefront that for years had been vacant and overlooked.
Then on a Thursday evening in late October, the couple quietly opened the restaurant and bar with the memorable, Southern-influenced name of Grocery Cocktail & Social. Word spread quickly, mostly through social media contacts. It didn’t take long to draw a crowd to the formerly forlorn corner of West Seventh and Washington streets.
“That weekend we were really busy,” says Salty Reed, who is known in foodie circles for his past work as a chef in several popular Portland restaurants, most recently the Screen Door.
The Grocery, as it is already known, is slowly building up its menu and tweaking its hours to find its sweet spot in the downtown eating and entertainment scene. It’s unusual name comes from the fact that Salty Reed’s Southern relatives often referred to all food as groceries.
Soon after the opening, the Reeds pulled out of the lunch hour, choosing instead a 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. schedule aimed at happy hour and evening diners and an evening crowd of social drinkers and diners. The restaurant, with seating for 49 people on two levels, also is available for private events.
Brett Irons, commercial real estate broker for Coldwell Banker Commercial who represents the building owner, says Salty Reed is taking “a subtle approach” with his quiet business launch and gradual menu development. “The cuisine and ambience are kind of unique for downtown,” Irons said. “It’s kind of a laid-back Southern hospitality.”
Irons is encouraged by the growing strength of the lower downtown, as seen by some of the longer leases in the area. The Reeds signed a 10 years lease on the property, a change from not too many years ago, when landlords would accept two-year leases and would lease to businesses without even looking at business plans. He expects the new restaurant to be one more piece in building synergy for downtown as a retail and dining destination.
The Reeds hope to play a key role in building that synergy, and it helps that Salty Reed has a following in the region. In addition to his work at the Southern-style Screen Door restaurant and the former Wildwood restaurant, Reed has worked as sous chef at Portland’s Acadia, known for Cajun and Creole dining, and also at Roots Restaurant & Bar in Camas.
The Reeds live in the Hough neighborhood and are passionate about putting down business roots in their hometown. Salty Reed said he spent the summer getting to know people who live and work downtown, connecting to his community in new ways. When he worked outside the city, Reed said, “I never had time to get to know anybody in town.”