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North Lombard knows the waffle man

Loaded treats give neighbors a snack and a sense of place
by: JIM CLARK, On a low-foot-traffic stretch of North Lombard Street with more instant check-cashing offices than coffee shops, David Stokamer’s cart offers a meeting place to stop and smell the waffles.

When you visit the Flavour Spot in Arbor Lodge for the first time, one thing becomes immediately clear: These aren't your grandmother's waffles.

There's no drippy syrup in sight - 'too viscous' to take and go, 35-year-old co-owner David Stokamer says. And there are no plates or utensils in sight, either.

These fluffy treats are gently folded and double-wrapped in paper and foil, made to order with a menu of toppings - from the standard butter and powdered sugar to peanut butter and marshmallow fluff or sausage patties and organic maple spread.

'This is the best way to have a waffle, with some substance in between,' says Erin Boni, 24, one of the waffle cart's customers on a recent blustery morning. 'A friend brought me here yesterday for the vegan waffle.'

She ordered it again, this time with vegan sausage, and sat with friends at the picnic table outside the cart as she sipped a $1 coffee she poured into the ceramic mug she had brought from home.

Seemingly faster than it takes to heat a waffle iron, this new NoPo hot spot - located in the Videorama parking lot at 2310 N. Lombard St. - has attracted customers of all stripes, from the dog-walking crowd that requests the organic half-and-half to the busy commuters and public-works employees looking to get a quick cup o' joe for the rush of traffic.

That was exactly Stokamer's hope when he opened the cart, about a half-mile west of Interstate 5 and the Interstate MAX line, with co-owner and former roommate Jon Erikson, 40, late last summer.

'It is a community,' Stokamer says, guessing that at least 80 percent of his customers come from surrounding neighborhoods such as Kenton, just on the other side of Lombard.

He's embraced the idea of business-as-gathering-spot. In the warmer months, his customers sit at the picnic table and play Simon, read The New York Times or pop open their laptop for the free Wi-Fi.

Iceland gave the inspiration

Like many of his customers, Stokamer is a recent transplant to the area, and he says it warms his heart when neighborhood residents of 20 and 30 years patronize the cart and cite their appreciation.

'When an old-timer comes by, it makes me feel like we're not interlopers, trying to make a quick buck off the locals,' he says.

Stokamer chose to live in North Portland himself when he moved here in 2001, in part for the affordability and in part for the entrepreneurship that was springing up everywhere.

'I've always worked for small companies,' he says. 'I like the immediacy of thinking of something and doing it, without a lot of meetings.'

He took odd jobs for a few years but got fired from a grocery store because of his long hair and nose ring, and didn't find much satisfaction working for a plumbing supply store.

'In Portland there's so many overeducated people. To get a job for more than $10 an hour without a specific skill set … it's really hard. It was impossible for me.'

So Stokamer - who jokes that he's been working on his psychology degree since 1990 - started thinking about doing something else.

The New York native says he grew up surrounded by food vendors - everything from knishes to pretzels to pizza - and thought it would be fun to open a cart of his own.

The waffle idea came after he saw Belgian waffles topped with Grand Marnier sold out of a van in Iceland a few summers ago. 'It was just the smell of it,' he says. 'As I was thinking of stuff to do, I thought of hot dogs, bagels, egg sandwiches, some kind of mobile something. I was also partly inspired by Portland - people doing all kinds of crazy things.'

Neighbors dig recipe so far

Stokamer started researching waffle-makers and building his menu and business model in his mind. He and business partner Erikson maxed out credit cards and leveraged their savings to invest in the necessary equipment.

When they searched for a location, they found that a coffee cart on North Lombard recently had been vacated after just a short stint. They bought the whole cart along with everything inside, including the espresso machine, coffee cups, boxes of tea, flavored syrups and other supplies.

They personalized it for their menu, added their own pair of tandem waffle-makers (for a total of four grids), and stocked up with coffee from Portland Roasting Co. The resulting business model seems to be working out peachy, Stokamer says.

Maybe it's just that eating waffles makes you feel good, but the customers who approached the cart on a recent morning seemed like they'd just discovered a waterfall in a desert.

'I think this is drive-through breakfast, Portland-style,' Josef Doornink, 27, says as he's about to bite into his steaming ham and gouda-filled waffle.

'It always seems like nobody else is moving here, then I see this and say 'Yay,' ' says Stephanie Turner, a Columbia Park-area mother of two who stops by every day for her caffeine fix. 'There are other places to get a coffee, but not in this neck of the woods. Starbucks is in St. Johns, but why would I go to Starbucks? I'd rather support these guys.'

For hours and a menu, see www.flavourspot.com, or call 503- 289-9866.

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