Josephine von Dohlen | Collegian

Going out for ice cream is not always a joy. For most people older than 16, and espe­cially for parents, the com­bi­nation of lines, crowds, and small children with sugar highs trans­forms a fun Sat­urday activity into an anxious game of “Don’t‑yell-at-someone-else’s‑shrieking-child!”

When my mom and I arrived at Salt and Straw in the Portland Pearl Dis­trict to find a line stretching out the door and around the corner, we each took a deep breath and pre­pared our­selves to endure at least a half hour of shoving, sweating, and whining. 

We expected mayhem and misery. We were in the vacation spirit, though, and unlikely to deny our­selves any­thing, espe­cially sweet and qui­es­cently frozen. So we parked our­selves around the corner at the back of the line, little expecting we were about to share the greatest ice cream expe­rience of our lives. 

If you ever get the chance, visit the Salt and Straw. 

Don’t go just because of the quirky atmos­phere and wacky flavors like Olive Oil and Lavender. Don’t even go because they let you taste lit­erally every flavor they have before you order. Go and observe the management. 

First launched as a food cart in 2011 by cousins Kim and Tyler Malek, the local ice cream shop sen­sa­tion­alized the business and has since opened brick-and-mortar loca­tions in Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Fran­cisco, and Seattle. 

The company owner Kim shares their mission on their website: “to create the kind of company that’s fun to support, work for, and partner with.”

Their desire to build com­munity shines even in the way their employees run the reg­ister. To watch the way those stu­dents and teenagers run the oper­ation, man­aging to make waiting in line an activity and the whole decision-making process a part of the fun, rev­o­lu­tionizes the idea of food service. 

This place is foodie-magic.

The line moved more quickly than we expected, but we had time to take in our sur­roundings. Portland during the first weekend in August meant that the maple trees which line the streets created whis­pering canopies over our heads, and the golden lights from shop windows illu­mi­nated the shady side­walks with a car­nival glow. Teenage couples on dates and grand­parents with kids to spoil milled around the corners, stopping to listen to a street per­former playing “Brown Eyed Girl.” Here was THE hot-summer-hangout-location for Portlandians. 

The sugary smell of homemade waffle cones spilled out the entrance, anointing us as we crossed the threshold. We picked up menus and perused their extensive list of flavors: Freckled Chocolate Zuc­chini Bread, Pear and Blue Cheese, Honey Lavender, Arbe­quina Olive Oil, Straw­berry Honey with Balsamic. 

When I realized the extent of the deci­sions I had before me, I silently thanked God for the time in line to weigh the pros and cons. My poor little brain already has trouble making decisions.

That’s when a teenager wearing a red head-scarf and a black apron inter­rupted my thinking to ask, 

“Can I bring you a sample? I’ll bring them out to you and then you can just order at the counter. Try as many as you like.”

Unwilling to waste a good sample on some­thing I wouldn’t like, I ordered some­thing fruity. Once she had both mine and my mom’s sample orders, she zipped away and returned, spoons in hand. She then waited while we tasted, asked us what we thought, and sug­gested a few more options for us to try.

Encouraged by her enthu­siasm, we put in a few more orders: Cin­namon Carrot Cake, and Pear and Blue Cheese. Each new flavor sur­prised and delighted us, and I could see our waitress-friend sharing in our pleasure as she brought spoon after spoon. 

This process of tasting and dis­cussing went on until we found our­selves nearing the front of the line. We looked around us, and everyone in the place was smiling and laughing and talking about the various flavors. The employees whisked around, fer­rying sugar-laden spoons. 

Despite the chal­lenge of remem­bering their patrons’ various orders, they gladly encouraged guests to be brave and try the Olive Oil, promising to bring some­thing tamer as a chaser if they hated it. 

Now that vacation is over and I’m back at school, I hope the memory of that expe­rience will fortify me against the frus­tration of meal halls, the coffee bars, and the har­rowing lines in the lunchroom. 

The employees at Salt and Straw made the uni­ver­sality of ice-cream-love a point of con­nection for people. Deciding on a flavor and waiting in line, usually a contest of who can get through line the fastest, became a com­munal activity. 

Food is a uni­versal necessity, and most often this means we get in one another’s way to get what we need. Meals become a hassle, a burden, an incon­ve­nience inter­rupting our already busy lives, but this campus and the tables we crowd around in the cafe­teria present an oppor­tunity for connection. 

The shuf­fling of the omelette line, the crush of too many bodies in a booth, the awkward dance we dance when we collide in the cafe­teria, these moments sprinkle the humor of humanity into the basic activ­ities of  our lives. These are expe­ri­ences that we all share that build community. 

I want to slow down enough to appre­ciate the time spent from the back of the line to the counter and the people around me, sharing the journey.