After much anticipation, Pono Farm & Fine Meats has opened their restaurant, Pono Farm Soul Kitchen, in NE Portland. Featuring refined takes on Japanese influenced comfort food, the menu makes good use of the eggs, well-marbled Waygu and Red Angus beef and heritage Berkshire, Red Wattle, Duroc and Yorkshire pork all pasture-raised on their farm in Bend, OR.
Amidst the excitement of opening the new restaurant and retail meat counter in Portland, we were able to catch up with Shin Nakato who, along with his brother Ted, own the operate the farm and hybrid restaurant/retail establishments in Bend and Portland. Here’s what we learned from Shin about their background, philosophy and new farm-to-table (in the truest sense) restaurant.
What is the concept of your new restaurant, Pono Farm Soul Kitchen?
Pono Farm Soul Kitchen will feature Japanese influenced comfort food. Our ingredients will be from our farm and other local farms. The sushi bar will be utilizing locally caught and/or sustainable seafood, including some “land sushi” menu items from our farm raised beef, pork, and egg.
As a farmer/rancher, what inspired you to open a restaurant in Portland?
We are third generation restaurateurs, and started our farm over 14 years ago with the goal of opening the best farm to table eatery that we could provide. After many years of farming and contemplating many different concepts, we have come up with The Soul Kitchen and the retail meat shop.
How does the restaurant complement your farm business?
The restaurant will represent the products that our farm and butcher shop provides. We feel that the restaurant is our final stage of our total cycle of growing fine foods.
Portland is known for its thriving restaurant scene. What sets your restaurant apart?
I would say, that there are many restaurants with locally grown ingredients but very few that provide meats and other products made by their very own farm and butcher shop. This gives us an unique advantage in that we control the quality, consistency, and supply of everything that we do. This goes back to genetics and the feed program that we have worked on for 14 years.
Can you tell us a bit about your family background?
Our grandmother, father, and other family members started the first Japanese restaurant in Atlanta, GA over 40 years ago. Then our father expanded to Charlotte, NC; Myrtle Beach, SC; and Springfield, MO. The concept was primarily teppanyaki and sushi with Washoku (traditional Japanese) dishes. My brothers and I have grown up working in restaurants since we were about 11 years old. We started as busboys and dishwashers and cleaning the whole restaurant daily; then to the kitchen for many years before working the front of the house.
When my brother, Ted and I, began managing the restaurants over 20 years ago; we were saddened to see the decline and inconsistencies in the ingredients, especially the meats. We saw how corporations and mass production was ruining our food quality. The future of our family business was jeopardized by the global economy way of thinking. My family and I decided to do something about it. We knew that it would be a long arduous journey with lots of sacrifices, but sometimes that is what it takes to develop something of value.
Tell us about the team who helps you make the magic happen.
We have an excellent team of chefs and managers that make the whole circle work. It starts on the farm in Bend which is managed by my wife, Kelli Rae, and our right hand man, Kelly Auernig. Then the butcher shop which is managed by Erik Olson—who has extraordinary culinary skills—with help from a third generation butcher, Brian Yamamoto. And then the restaurant, with a team of highly skilled individuals managed by Cristine Orocio and Ellen Chien for front of the house, and the kitchen led by Ric Ramos with help from Yasu Tabita for sushi and Vince Tien for the rest of the kitchen.
Ric started in our kitchen in Springfield, MO and quickly became a great asset. He then moved to New York City to work under Morimoto and David Bouley.
What are your favorite dishes on the menu?
My favorite dishes maybe a little bias, since I farm. But, I enjoy:
Flatiron Carpaccio, Ginger Scallion Chimichurri, Ponzu
Wok Fired Beef Liver, Nira, Bean Sprouts
12 oz Charcoal Grilled Loin Chop, Ginger Apple Sauce
Beef Tartar w/ Quail Egg Gunkan Maki sushi
Visit the restaurant at:
4118 NE Sandy Blvd
Portland, OR 97212
For more information about Pono Farm and Soul Kitchen, visit their website.