Leadership at Portland’s most famous ice cream shop is considering moving its headquarters out of town. Kim Malek, the co-founder of ice cream company Salt & Straw, says the brand “can’t stay here” if the city’s issues with crime and violence continue, citing recent incidents at the main kitchen in Southeast Portland.
Last week, Malek told the Oregonian that a fire in an RV parked near Salt & Straw’s headquarters shut down power to the location, just a few days after someone pointed a gun at an employee while he was walking to work. Those events — compounded by years of frustrations with crime and trash in the headquarters’ neighborhood — instigated her decision to go public about the potential move, hoping to put pressure on city officials to address the ongoing issues with public safety, drugs, and violence on the streets of Portland. “Seeing it get worse and worse, I don’t know what option I have,” Malek told KEZI last week.
It seems she’s also getting some backup: musician Thomas Lauderdale wrote a letter to city officials about the fire and the company’s plans, attributing the issue to the unfettered access to drugs within the city.
“This is less a homeless issue; it is a health and public safety and drug issue,” Lauderdale wrote in his letter to city leaders. “This is drug-fueled and it needs to be addressed immediately.”
In 2020, Oregon voters passed Measure 110, which decriminalized the possession of small amounts of controlled substances like meth and heroin. The measure also established a grant program to increase the number of addiction recovery centers and services within the state. The measure has been heavily critiqued for the delayed distribution of grant funding, and local law enforcement has attributed the measure to an increase in crimes like car theft and break-ins. However, independent research firm RTI International found no correlated increase in calls for police service following the establishment of Measure 110.
That being said, anyone following Portland restaurants on Instagram know that break-ins and crime have become a major issue for many local food businesses. Sushi spot Fish & Rice attributed their recent closure, in part, to “repeated break-ins,” one of many businesses to post images of shattered windows and broken locks on Instagram. Portland police records indicate that burglaries rose around 17 percent from 2019 to 2021; incidents of vandalism more than doubled in August 2022 compared to August 2019.
It’s unclear where headquarters would move if the brand decided to depart. Salt & Straw operates locations in several major cities along the West Coast, as well as Miami. Despite locals’ documented negative feelings toward the city in recent years, Portland is far from alone when it comes to an increase in crime. It doesn’t appear on the lists of most dangerous or safest cities in the United States, based on the cost of crime, nor has it seen the increase in homicides of its neighbor to the north, Seattle.
Malek has emphasized that she would prefer to work with city officials to improve conditions citywide; she told KEZI that she has already met with Mingus Mapps’s communications director and policy advisor, Adam Lyons. For now, the ice cream giant will stay in Portland — assuming things get better. Eater Portland has reached out to Malek for comment; this story will be updated with more information.