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Laughing Planet lands in Woodstock--with dinosaurs

by: Elizabeth Ussher Groff, The new Laughing Planet Café, at S.E. 41st and Woodstock Boulevard, is adding to the neighborhood’s choice of restaurants.

Saws buzzed and hammers pounded outside the new Laughing Planet Café at S.E. 41st and Woodstock Boulevard as I talked with Franz Spielvogel, one of three co-owners of four cafés sprinkled throughout Portland, plus one in Eugene.

Taking a break from the furious pace of remodeling work, Spielvogel shared some thoughts about this choice for their new location, the goals of the restaurant…and its name.

'We love this neighborhood,' declared Spielvogel, 'And I think we're a good fit for Woodstock.' Describing his process of site selection, he added, 'We have been aware of this spot for a long time. We eyed it when Beez went in after Davidson's, and then Stromboli's [after Beez moved over to Holgate]. Three times is a charm.'

The owners--Spielvogel, Richard Satnick, and Barbara Stutz--are confident that they share similar values with the clientele in this part of Inner Southeast Portland. Their goals are to connect with the neighborhood, provide affordable, wholesome food, and operate in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.

Their 'quick service format', in which you order at the counter, pay before taking a table, and leave your first name, cuts down on waiting time. The server who delivers the order to your table locates you by calling out your name, making it possible for people to get to know each other.

The price is right at each of the Laughing Planet Cafes. 'One mission of our business is to become a neighborhood resource. We're in the meal replacement business. We want to give your family food that is absolutely affordable, high quality, and nutritious,' says Spielvogel. 'We have global flavors with local ingredients.'

While the Laughing Planet Cafés have become known for their fancy burritos, bowls, soups, and salads--both vegetarian and non-vegetarian--they also serve their own vegan baked goods, accompanied by smoothies, soda, beer-on-tap, wine and coffee. 'We are not just a place to come and have an entrée. We are also a place to sit and have a cookie or homemade pie. We call it a café, because we want it to be a gathering spot.'

'We don't cater to any particular demographic,' continues Spielvogel. 'But one of the things we have learned from neighborhood feedback is that we are parent-friendly. Parents can relax and know their kids are getting wholesome food with some distraction,' he said, referring to the particular distraction of plastic dinosaurs on some of the tables.

'The décor of dinosaurs came about by accident,' he explained. 'In our first location, Richard brought in some of his Godzilla collection, thinking we would need something to play with while business slowly grew. Instead, the place was packed from the very beginning, and we never got to play with the toys! Instead, they become a popular part of our décor, so we've kept them as part of our identity--adding more dinosaurs to keep kids busy. Indeed, we have kids at our North Mississippi Avenue location who have our entire dinosaur inventory memorized.' (The model dinosaurs are stamped with scientific names.)

A message that Laughing Planet would like to make better known is their effort to be socially responsible. 'We try to operate with the smallest footprint possible. We're very good on recycling, and we're always looking at ways of reducing and reusing our waste. It's the right thing to do, and it's good business,' says Spielvogel.

Looking to be environmentally kind to the planet, the café tries to use as many biodegradable products as possible--the plastic utensils, straws, and the cold beverage to-go cups. The ramekins (sauce containers) are made of bagasse, which is the fiber left over after the juice has been squeezed from sugar cane. They are currently looking for a source for biodegradable soup and hot beverage containers.

So -- why the name 'Laughing Planet'?

Founder and principal owner Richard Satnick says, 'In trying to think of a name that described a place serving wholesome food that was good for your health and for the health of the planet, I recalled a story about Australian Aborigines, discussing the damage done to the earth by western civilization. Their perspective was that the effects were more like a scab that the planet would eventually laugh off. The image of a laughing planet was so cool, so oddly optimistic, that I decided it was a great name for the new café.'

The hours at the new 4110 S.E. Woodstock Boulevard location are Monday-Saturday 11 am to 10 pm, and Sunday from 11 am till 9 pm. To-go orders are taken at 503/788-2921. For more complete menu information, visit the Internet website: www.laughingplanetcafe.com.