April 22, 2007: up in the attic sortin’ through the minutae
American Gothic. My wife Heather and I have unofficially become a modern day caricature of the famous painting by Grant Wood. During the month of December, 2006, I was looking for a permanent place to call home. I had just returned to my home town of Portland, Oregon after an extended six month sabbatical where I circuitously drove my trusty bread box of a Honda Element from Portland to Panama City and back on the search for surf, sun, SCUBA, and latino cappuccinos. It was raining so hard the day we first saw what was soon to be our home that the sewer drains were backed up leaving a large-ish lake to hop over just to get to the sidewalk. The building was deemed by the City of Portland to be structurally unsound, and was at threat of being torn down. It was leaning twenty plus inches at the Southeast corner of the building, and from the exterior looked as if it had been beaten like a baby harp seal. And a seventy foot tall elm was growing into the basement… And a thirty foot long branch had broken off during a big storm, damaging the roof… The current owner used cardboard to patch the roof… Don’t need to mention the current vermin population, or the fact that the owner was himself an OCD packrat hoarder who was compelled to horde garbage, collect the minutae of life, tie & tuck it away in a sanity only he understood.
But it was a Victorian! 1891 Victorian to be exact. The original mercantile for the Kerns, Sunnyside, East Buckman, and Laurelhurst area before those neighborhoods existed. The upstairs shopkeeper’s quarters were all original, down to the cedar wainscoting, doors, casings, and the”japanned”copper hardware – unbastardized by the seventies construction geniuses who came up with things like popcorn drop ceiling treatments, glued on asbestos tile over original hardwood flooring… wallpaper over turn of the century plaster. We had no idea what we were doing, but we did it. The ensuing structural renovation to the property took two years, ten months, thirteen odd days, and a very late night before opening day. We have stayed as true to the original intent of the property as possible. For more information on the renovation, here is a link to a fairly thorough snapshot of the project: (link to renovation page).
We have named our venture Landauer Mercantile, LLC, after the man who built and ran the original mercantile, William Landauer, and we have named the roasting business Oblique for the following reasons: the building is still crooked – take the time to study the lines of the building as you sit inside or out on our side patio, and you will see that as one of our carpenter’s stated: “it’s still a bit wonky.” Wonky Coffee Roasters doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Oblique – the definition of which is no parallel or perpindicular lines to reference; we’d like to think that the care and consideration we’ve levied toward our home in all it’s infinitessimal variables is the same level of care we’ve put forth to bring our community an espresso experience worthy of repeating ad infinitum. We hope you enjoy our place in it’s entirety. In time, we will work toward excellence in all facets of our business endeavour. One promise that we can make to you today is that you will always be treated as an equally important member of our community, whether you live a block up the street, or are from far away and seek out the best espresso wherever you find yourself. As our roasting skills grow and increase with our burgeoning experience, hopefully we will become your new favorite espresso cafe and that we can encourage each customer that the little things are sometimes the most precious – a proper espresso is an incendiary experience that can be a momentary lapse from the trappings of the big blue ball we all share.
All our coffee is roasted on site in a vintage, German built Probat L5. One of the many miracles that have transpired through this experience is that the day we signed the bank documents for a line of credit to open our business was the same day that Bart (good, stout, German name) was listed for sale on the local Portland area craigslist site. We had been looking for an L5 for two years; they are rare in that people don’t sell them once they buy the incredibly heavy for their size Probats. It costs a fortune to ship them anywhere, and Bart happened to be sitting quietly collecting dust, neglected in some guy’s garage over across the river in Raleigh Hills.
We have effectively opened our living room up to our neighborhood in the hopes of creating a community center for connecting with the rest of our world, and we hope to make your acquaintance in the near future!
Heather & John Chandler, Proprietors
Oblique Coffee Roasters