From homeless to restaurateur and employer of the second chance

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A new restaurant in the Portland metro area not only aims to provide a variety of classic American fare to patrons for late-night cravings, but also acts as a second-chance employer.

Ron Thomas from Riptz City eats knows what it’s like to experience homelessness himself and has worked with his business to take it forward over the years.

Now he’s grateful for how some have invested in the next phase of his business, including financial support from a charity. Mercy corps and be able to rent a commercial kitchen from a property owned by Harsch investment properties.

Ron Thomas, owner of Riptz City Eats. May 25, 2021 (KOIN).

Thomas said that although many places have turned him down in the past when he asked for help starting the business, due to bankruptcy in the past and the struggle for a higher credit rating , he said the deal he and Harsch made. is the one he sees as an “opportunity”.

“The opportunity was, they invested in me giving me a chance,” Thomas said.

Riptz City Eats’ new location is at 4105 SW 117th Ave. in Beaverton, at the Canyon Place Mall. Similar to the now-closed Pizza Hut that once operated there, the restaurant is take-out only and offers delivery through apps like Grubhub and Doordash, but does not have a dining option.

The restaurant offers six distinct menus, ranging from soul food like wings and macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, burgers, pizza, barbecue, and Mexican cuisine.

In addition to having a physical storefront, Thomas said the company acts as a “virtual kitchen,” meaning the six separate menus appear as individual restaurants on apps like Grubhub and Doordash: Soul Food, Momma Bear Fried Chicken, Badd Burgers PDX, Touch of Italy Pizza Company, Caliente Cocina and The Pit is Allumé barbecue.

The restaurant occupies a niche by being the only one of its kind in the metro area with very late night opening hours from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. each day. The company also does restoration.

Thomas said he employs a diverse staff and when it comes to being a ‘second chance’ employer he said that can mean a variety of things, whether it’s a someone coming out of homelessness or the prison system or just someone recovering from economic and mental health. setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jonica Grober, left, and Liv Kelsey cook food at Riptz City Eats. May 25, 2021 (KOIN).

“So we’re talking about disadvantaged people with low self-esteem reinventing themselves and needing a chance, you know, just like me going somewhere else,” Thomas said.

Liv Kelsey, kitchen crew chief and chef at Riptz City Soul, said landing the job was “divine timing,” having just boarded in April after moving to the area from Arizona.

“The universe just brought us together at the most perfect time to do magic,” Kelsey said.

In the mid-2000s, Thomas found himself on the streets and received help from various charities around Portland, such as Transition Projects, Central City Concern, and Mercy Corps.

Jay Fetherston, Senior Vice President of Retail North at Harsch Investments, described Thomas as “someone who really gives back to the community.”

“A lot of people want to talk about themselves and as you’ve seen Ron talks a lot about other people and the opportunities he wants to develop and provide to others. We need a lot more Rons in the world, ”said Fetherston.

Early on, Thomas was also given a huge lead to start his business by being employed by a Second Chance Employer himself, receiving mentorship under the direction of the Horn of Africa restaurateur in northeast Portland. There he honed his skills as a chef and even operated his own small catering business out of the restaurant kitchen when it was closed on weekends.

This new venture represents the first time that Thomas has operated in a commercial kitchen that he rents himself.

When the pandemic first hit in April 2020, Thomas was hired by Transition Projects to cook food for their shelter clients in one of their kitchens, with food donated by Oregon Food Bank, to fill the void left by volunteer cooks who are no longer able to prepare meals amid lockdown and social distancing guidelines.

To browse Riptz City Eats menus or order food, go to website or call 503-747-3481.

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