When people think about Southeast Portland, they used to think of hippies, tattoos, and general Portland weirdness (okay, they still do, but bear with me). Over the last decade, Southeast has become much more fashionable—Hawthorne and Belmont, for example, are seeing an influx of people, pushing up rents and real estate values. Southeast Division is also experiencing a renaissance, with several new shops and condominiums (without parking!?!) planned or under construction.
One Southeast neighborhood you don’t hear much about, though, is the FoPo neighborhood. FoPo begins at Southeast 50th Ave, where Foster splits off from Powell (thus, the FoPo moniker) and heads southeast toward I-205. For most people, FoPo is only seen through the windows of their cars as they drive by. City leaders don’t seem to give a damn about the neighborhood either, and when talk of urban renewal districts come up, no one ever mentions this part of the city. About the only time FoPo makes it into the news is when a pedestrian gets killed trying to cross Foster (the most dangerous street Portland). This is too bad. The neighborhood has a certain gritty charm to it, if you slow down long enough to see it, and many people living in the neighborhood care about it and want to see the area thrive.
While the neighborhood lacks the renown of other parts of the city, you can still find good coffee (this is Portland, after all). One shop in the neighborhood that particularly cares about coffee is Speedboat Coffee, located at Southeast 51st and Foster. Speedboat sells single-origin espressos roasted by Stumptown, and has set the bar for quality coffee in FoPo. The shop is owned and operated by Don and Carissa Niemyer, two transplants who came to the Northwest six years ago in search of better coffee.
When the Niemyers moved to Portland from Colorado, Don was managing a Verizon retail outlet, but he wanted to get into coffee. Don soon left Verizon and purchased a small coffee kiosk (a “glorified concession stand that served bad coffee from Costco,” in his words) at the Gateway Transit Center. The couple soon switched to serving Stumptown, to the benefit of commuting coffee drinkers.
Don used the profitable kiosk as his “coffee lab,” a place where he could experiment and hone his coffee skills. A year later, the couple purchased Speedboat, with the intent to make it their “real” shop. When they bought it, Speedboat was the typical “second wave” café, serving mediocre coffee hidden beneath loads of syrups and milks. “They had every flavor of syrup you could imagine,” recalled Don. “They had twenty-four ounce snickerdoodle mochas, that type of thing.”
To avoid alienating their customers, the Niemyers waited a couple months to implement big changes, but it was not long before most of the syrups went into the trash. Carissa recalled the day with much pleasure. “On the day Don gave me the go ahead, I threw away seventy-five bottles of syrup,” she said.
Today, the Niemyers are working hard to build their business around better coffee. They set high standards for their baristas and have garnered a loyal group of customers. To make sure they are keeping up on the latest in coffee, the Niemyers became certified barista competition judges and judged at the NWRBC and the USBC last year. The couple is planning to judge at the NWRBC in Seattle this year.
Despite its growth over the last twenty years, Portland is still a little rough around the edges. Not every neighborhood in Portland is as trendy or as polished as the Pearl District, but that’s okay. In Portland, you can find solid coffee in places you would never expect it. FoPo’s Speedboat Coffee is one of those places. If you happen to be heading out Powell or Foster (perhaps you commute through there) and are in need of some good coffee, Speedboat is definitely the stop to make.
Address: 5115 SE Foster Road, Portland OR 97206 (map)
Hours: Monday-Saturday 6am-5pm
Recommendations? Ask for a coffee/pastry pairing
Website: speedboatcoffee.com or the Speedboat FB page