Portland, Oregon: Woodsman Market
Words by Chelsea Fuss Photographs by Lisa Warninger
A profile of the Woodsman Market in Portland, Oregon.
When a space opened between the original Stumptown Coffee and the Woodsman Tavern in Portland’s SE Division Neighborhood, Duane Sorensen (owner of both establishments) took the opportunity to fill up the block. He opened a tiny food market focused on meats and cheeses, perhaps as a nod to his father, a butcher. Manager Carly Laws says the idea was to “open a neighborhood market and fill it with the things we like to eat—whatever is in our cupboards at home.” Duane founded the world-famous artisanal coffee company, Stumptown, by visiting farms, finding the best coffee growers in the world and talking with them face to face. This lack of middleman is also part of the philosophy of the Woodsman Market.
While spending an afternoon at the market, we noticed that suppliers and farmers stopped in throughout the afternoon, hand-delivering their goods. We met Ben Jacobsen, a salt vendor, who began selling salt just four months ago. After spending time in Norway and Denmark, where sea salt was much more accessible, Ben came back inspired to bring the best salt to the Northwest. Each week he rents a big truck with a 500-gallon tank, drives it to the coast, pumps the water from the ocean and brings it back to Portland to process the salt. It is the only salt harvested in the Northwest, and it now sits proudly on the shelf next to Maldon salt, which is treasured by chefs for its light, flaky texture and subtle taste.
An Ibérico ham from Spain is a focal point in the shop, but it sits alongside meats and cheeses from Portland-area farms. Curated by Steve Jones, a Portland local who won the 2011 Cheesemonger Invitational in New York City, the cheese case is like the rest of the shop and includes a mix of Northwestern cheeses and the best from around the world. Every piece of merchandise is tested in their kitchens at home. Heinz ketchup sits next to imported tomatoes from Italy and peanuts made by a group of Methodist men in North Carolina. When I ask, “Why Heinz?” Carly says, “It’s simply the best ketchup, so that’s why we carry it.” Noah, one of the mangers, comments on their Oregon Tilth Certified Organic (OTCO) farm eggs, “Around our house we take eggs really seriously, so when it was time to buy them for the market, I knew exactly where to go. We know the chickens have had good lives. Scott brings us our eggs every Tuesday after lunch.” The fresh chicken eggs sit in a wire basket inside a vintage cooler.
Inspired by travels to New York City and Amsterdam, Duane oversaw the design of the tiny grocery. Walls are splashed with subway tiles, weathered light fixtures hang above the counter and vintage refrigerators hold eggs, herbs, and specialty drinks. Two antique carts sit in front of the shop. One holds produce, the other fresh flowers tucked into crockery pots. We were immediately struck by the effortlessness of the displays. Flower vendor Megan, of Fieldworks, notes that all the flowers come from local family farms. “Duane asked for the flowers to feel nonsensical and wild. He asked me to listen to Neil Young’s Harvest as inspiration.” Wild branches, local roses and tiny seedlings fill the cart. It’s hard to resist picking up a few stems along with some slices of prosciutto and provolone piccante for my dinner.
The food lovers at the Woodsman Market have managed to pack the best food from the Northwest and around the world into a tiny space that appears to be the sort of market you might only see in New York City. But they have bigger plans: Noah tells us they want to have a beehive on the roof to harvest honey, and Carly says they are scheming to make their own products. “We plan to create space in the back for pickling and making our own jams and jellies.”
If you visit the Woodsman Market, you’ll not only leave with delicious fare, you’ll probably engage in conversation with a farmer or learn about how local salt is harvested. If you find yourself in Portland, Oregon, head straight over to SE Division for some Stumptown Coffee and a gander through this charming grocery.
4537 SE Division Street
Portland, Oregon 97206