There’s a reason why Portland, Oregon routinely ranks as one of the top cities in the United States by a number of measures. From public transportation to energy efficiency, Portland provides an environment that allows progressive concepts to germinate and thrive. One of these concepts safely rests within the brain of Scott Davison, owner of the Arbor Lodge, a unique artisan coffeehouse and community space in North Portland.
This welcoming business is regularly mentioned as one of the top coffee houses in Portland, and for good reason as Davison explains. “We’re roasting half of our coffee now. Tanager coffee was launched out of this shop as well.”
Tanager coffee is operated by one of Davison’s employees, who still works there. The website describes the brand as being committed to investing in the neighborhood, city and regions where their coffee is grown.
The idea of sharing in success and giving back to the local environment is obviously ingrained in almost everything that Davison does. He’s discerning even in the products he carries. “Almost everything on the wall is made domestically, and a lot of them locally,” he says. “I want to know where my cups are made. Where are my shirts made? There’s a reason why we don’t have to-go travel mugs: because they just don’t make them in the U.S. anymore.”
Ensuring everything is local provides Davison the opportunity to team up with other local businesses. His bagels are provided by Bowery Bagels, a Portland company specializing in New York style bagel offerings. The pastries come courtesy of Nuvrei Patissierie and Café, a local bakery on 11th Street in downtown Portland.
Part of Davison’s intrinsic belief is that a business should be run with others in mind. To him, it’s not just about the almighty dollar.
“One of my philosophies,” he begins, “is to ask what the cost of everything is. If we’re not willing to weigh out what everything costs, then fundamentally we end up where we are at ecologically, socially and spiritually. Underpinning almost everything I do is the desire to help,” he finishes.
Davison believes that a business should be just as much about selling a product as it is about building a relationship with the neighborhood. “I’ve always said that coffee is more about a curation than a product,” he says. “What we’re about is creating a community space that curates relationships and connections in a time when people are becoming increasingly dispersed.”
So what exactly does providing a community space mean? As Davison explains, “three to five nights a week we have free community events. We have a women’s spirituality group, a spoken word night, a writer’s group, and an interfaith men’s group that all meet here.”
Davison is intent on making sure the community space is more about community than coffee. While many may hold events during business hours in order to fully optimize a packed house, Davison does things a little differently.
The desire to create a space for people to gather that was free of ulterior motive resulted in Davison making some very unorthodox business decisions. “We have a little contract that we do with people,” he says. “They literally come in and get the key the day before. So they have complete access. They set it up and break it down without any staff here. I don’t think there’s another spot in town that does that.”
As you continue to talk to Davison you begin to wonder if the coffee house is merely just a vessel allowing him to carry out a vision. “I started a non-profit and spent every penny I had, plus some, in getting it going. I funded it because I believe in it and that’s what this place helped pay for,” he says.
The non-profit that Davison started is called Vocoform and focuses on helping people identify their vocation. This is a service that Davison wants to provide to underserved communities.
“We work exclusively with communities that have barriers,” he explains. “It takes the form of marketplace experiments. It’s all about transformation within the community; specifically communities that have been denied that capacity.”
Within walking distance of the Arbor Lodge, Davison also operates a smoothie shop and urban farm. Yet these aren’t his only businesses. “The urban farm is a big project,” he says, “but the one we are putting most of our energy into right now is called Rolling Oasis, which is a bicycle-based produce delivery business. We’re about nine months into that, but we just need the capital to take it to scale.”
Davison is a native of the Pacific Northwest, originally hailing from Olympia, Washington. He’s been in the greater Portland metro area for about twenty years. After originally making his money in a successful run as a realtor and developer, Davison was looking for a change of pace.
“I moved here and left the development and real estate world completely,” he says. “I really wanted to get into social enterprise work. I ended up spending a year in Bangladesh doing enterprise development.”
After two decades in the Portland metro area, Davison has no desire to move. Although he states he’s drawn to places “with underserved communities,” his roots and partner are here; a partner who’s been instrumental in the success of his business and realization of his vision. “I need to mention the hard work my partner, Jojo Davison, does behind the scenes to curate the schedule and much more,” he states with conviction.
As for future plans, Davison will keep the Arbor Lodge as it is and focus on reaching the goals he’s set out for his other ventures. This may not be such a bad thing considering the punch he packs into this small space.
We’re affected by breath,” he says with a distant look in his eye. “We’re effected by the spaces we’re in and the people we’re around. By the breaths we give and take. When somebody walks in here I want this to be a breath that brings life.”
The Arbor Lodge coffee and community space is located at 1507 N Rosa Parks Way. For more information visit their website or contact them at (503)289-1069.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is a published author, journalist, and copywriter who has been writing professionally for over nine years. He currently works from his home in Vancouver, Washington and is excited to bring you the best that the Portland restaurant scene has to offer.