A weekly series of wide discovery about our food and sustainable agriculture.
Lisa Mygrant admits that buying a 7,000 square foot, high-profile historic building in the center of downtown Portland was a larger project than she’d envisioned for her first restaurant.
“Terrifying,” she said when asked how it felt when the deal went through. “But really exciting. It was an amazing opportunity and such a special building.”
She described the menu for Raven & Rose restaurant as “American farmhouse cooking with a nod to the British Isles.” The goal for the kitchen and the bar would be to source ingredients as much as possible from local and sustainable sources.
“It’s really important for us to have direct relationships with farmers,” she said, emphasizing that it isn’t a marketing angle but something she feels passionately about because of the way she was raised.
“I just like to grow things,” was how Mygrant said her dad always described himself. And grow things he did.
“Vegetables and fruit trees and chickens and rabbits and all kinds of things,” she said. “They always grew their own food.”
It was a big shock when she left home for college and ran smack into young people who’d grown up on prepackaged, processed food. They knew nothing about how asparagus grew or, incredibly to this erstwhile farmer’s daughter, didn’t like tomatoes. Her response was to do what her mother had taught her.
“I would cook big meals for everybody in the whole dorm,” she said, remembering the best part was watching her friends’ eyes widen when they discovered how good fresh food could be.
With a degree in a branch of geological engineering called biogeochemistry, which studies the cycling of elements through life in the earth, she’d thought of specializing in sustainable fisheries and farming. But then a friend from college, who had moved to London, asked her to come help open a restaurant, then another, and she was hooked.
Mygrant decided to attend a three-month immersion program at the prestigious Ballymaloe cooking school, which taught traditional French cookery along with English and Irish cuisines. Located on a 100-acre organic farm in Ireland where students lived and worked on the farm, the experience cemented her choice to make food and restaurants her career.
After graduation there were stints in the kitchens at Chez Panisse in San Francisco and Paleys Place in Portland, and she would occasionally look for properties where she might open a place of her own. One night, as she was driving through downtown Portland, she saw a for sale sign on an old building and stopped. As she was studying the sign, a jogger ran by her, then stopped and came back, asking if she was interested. He turned out to be the agent for the building and told her the bank was forcing the sale.
The building turned out to be the Ladd Carriage House, built by early Portland businessman William S. Ladd to house his horses. A historic structure, it had been slated to be torn down but was saved when a group of citizens came together with a plan to preserve it.
It’s a big commitment, but one Mygrant is excited to take on.
“We’ve met so many great people and the community is so excited about this,” she said. “I knew it would be something good from the beginning. It’s a special place.”
Photo and text by Kathleen Bauer