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Under new rule, concert-goers must buy treats at venue



TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Oregon Zoo concert-goers consider food choices among the carts on a Saturday evening.As part of a dramatic transformation at the Oregon Zoo, thousands of summer concert-goers — from the Indigo Girls this past Saturday to the two sold-out Weird Al Yankovic shows later this summer — may no longer bring their own food and drinks into the event.

Instead, the zoo decided to beef up its food and beverage sourcing in a big way, tapping into Portland’s hunger for locally sourced goods and businesses.

“We wanted to focus on Oregon,” says John Sterbis, the zoo’s new food and beverage manager. “It’s about putting Oregonians to work.”

The new additions include a Pok Pok food truck; a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cart run by the Portland nonprofit New Avenues for Youth; an upstart catering company called Peacock Picnics; a food cart by the Canby restaurant Top o’ Hill; and an overhaul of the zoo’s food and drink sourcing to emphasize Oregon-made ingredients and products wherever possible.

The changes — which have been phased in since May — are part of a push toward being more sustainable by the new management team at the zoo, including Sterbis and a new executive chef.

It’s also partly due to physical space constraints.

“With construction of the new Elephant Lands habitat there’s been constriction of the concert space,” says zoo spokesman Hova Najarian. “With a more intimate venue, there’s less room for coolers, picnic baskets and bags.”

Zoo visitors have had mixed reactions. Some still want to tote their own picnics in; while others are glad to see the expanded options and the new focus on locavorism.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Trisha and Morgan Mead of Peacock Picnics with a basket of their offerings.For instance, the zoo’s food tent now serves Portland-based Zenner’s sausages (double-smoked brats and jalapeño frankfurters); and a barbeque pork sandwich with pork that comes from a ranch near Salem.

A bento station uses locally grown vegetables, sauce and chicken. The AfriCafe serves up burgers with beef from Columbia Empire Meat in Portland.

“Everything we purchase has to be bid,” Sterbis says. “We still have to bid it out, but we’re able to be mindful of our local providers.”

The zoo’s selection of Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s as the dessert vendor is an interesting one, considering Portland’s abundance of ice cream, doughnut and other sweet shops and carts.

Sterbis says the zoo selected the Ben & Jerry’s procurement bid because they support New Avenues for Youth’s mission to provide job training for at-risk youth.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Customers line up at the Ben and Jerrys cart near the Oregon Zoo concert stage.A crew of five to seven youth, age 16 through 24, will be serving up cones at the zoo this summer during regular hours as well as at the concerts, says Sean Suib, executive director of New Avenues for Youth.

“What we’re doing, as far as the social enterprise, is a locally grown concept,” he says. “No, it’s not one of the local boutique ice cream shops, but the company is a very strong, values-based company and the brand has strong recognition, and the product’s

really good.”

New Avenues for Youth takes home the majority of profits from their zoo cart, as with the other vendors. The zoo collects a small portion and puts it back into its programs.

This summer, concert-goers also will find a new stock of local beverages at the beverage tent, including Pelican Brewery’s Silverspot IPA, which celebrates and benefits conservation of the Oregon silverspot butterfly. The zoo’s beverage tent also includes Hopworks IPA and Widmer Hefeweisen from Portland; and Deschutes Mirror Pond and Atlas Hard Apple Cider from Bend. The only nonlocal beer is cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The wine selection features both Oregon and Washington state labels: Lumos (McMinnville) pinot gris; Eola Hills (Rickreall) pinot noir; Duck Pond (Dundee) chardonnay; and Canoe Ridge’s (Walla Walla, Wash.) cabernet.

“We do a tasting; that’s how we select our wines,” Sterbis says. “The requirement was Oregon or Washington.”

The Oregon Zoo always has banned bringing in alcoholic beverages; the new ban on other beverages (except for factory-sealed or empty water bottles) holds true for just the concerts.

In all, Sterbis says the zoo is just being more conscientious about their visitors’ experience. “There’s been some dramatic changes, but some things are the same,” he says. “Like elephant ears — I’d be crazy to tweak that recipe.”

Pre-order picnic

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Bella Chilton and Alec Belote create picnic baskets for Peacock Picnics at an Oregon Zoo concert.There’s one more addition to the Zoo Concert series that celebrates local entrepreneurship. The zoo has contracted with a Portland startup, Peacock Picnics, to sell pre-ordered picnic baskets with scratch-made bread, pickles, lemonade and spreads.

“All items are either made by me or sourced locally,” says Morgan Mead, who launched the business just four weeks ago with his wife, Trisha.

The couple, both 38, were inspired to start the business by an idea they had for Trisha’s birthday party five years ago. They decided to throw a party and present their guests with gifts, rather than the other way around.

So they made pickles and baguettes, spreads and paté and specialty cocktails for each guest, along with a keepsake vintage martini glass, and enjoyed it all while playing croquet in the middle of Ladd’s Addition, not far from where they live.

“We took some pictures of it,” says Morgan, who grew up in the restaurant industry and has done everything from cooking and bartending to front-of-the-house restaurant work. “All of a sudden everybody’s like ‘I want some; you guys should do picnics.’ ”

So this summer, as Trisha recovers from treatments for cervical cancer she was diagnosed with last year, the couple ran with the concept and launched their business.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - An Indigo Girls concert at the Oregon Zoo.The name “peacock” just happens to fit perfectly with the zoo, but actually was the theme of their wedding six years ago, at Horning’s Hideout, a fishing hole known for its wildlife, including peacocks.

“We weren’t planning on peacocks being our family animal, but the next Christmas everything we got was little peacock ornaments,” Morgan says.

The pair now juggle the food prep and marketing with their other jobs and raising a 4-year-old son, while the work keeps rolling in.

Thanks to Trisha’s connections in the theater community, as founder of Fertile Ground, they’ve been working the Shakespeare in the Park and Macbeth in the Park events for the Portland Actors’ Ensemble at the Lone Fir Cemetery.

Since Metro manages Lone Fir Cemetery, and a zoo employee happened to hear about Peacock Picnics through those events, zoo officials thought it would be a perfect fit.

Peacock Picnics had their first zoo event on a recent Wednesday evening at Sunset at the Zoo, and worked the Indigo Girls concert on Saturday.

A picnic basket for two (with three homemade spreads, a jar of homemade pickles, a baguette, fruit, cookies and lemonade) is $38, with add-ons like beer, wine, salami and cheese extra.

It’s not just the food that the Meads celebrate with their endeavor. It’s the experience.

Glass jars, cloth napkins and a real picnic basket — which they ask guests to return to their table when done — are part of the package.

“We like to encourage people to make the world a better place,” Morgan says. “It’s my dream to start a restaurant. This is a way to get my feet wet. It’s not about making a ton of money. It’s always been about giving people a good experience.”

For more: www.oregonzoo.org.