Jenn Louis

Chef, Restaurateur

Portland, Oregon

Chef Jenn Louis got her culinary start in the deep woods of North Carolina as a cook at an Outward Bound base camp. She followed her dream to the Western Culinary Institute of Portland before starting as a line cook at well-known Portland restaurant Wildwood. In 2000, Louis opened her full-service catering outfit, Culinary Artistry, which is still considered one of the top event-planning companies in Portland. Then in 2008, Louis and her husband, David Welch, opened their first brick-and-mortar concept, Lincoln Restaurant, and soon received plenty of well-earned accolades. In spring 2011, the couple launched their second restaurant, Sunshine Tavern, in Portland’s Southeast Division district.

  • On April 4, 2013
    Jenn Louis answered the question: Jenn Louis

    What are the best things to do in Portland?

    Portland’s a really neat city in that it’s a very simple city. I always describe [the people] as having a Northwest sense of hospitality. We all really like nice things, we like nice food, we like nice everything — but we don’t like it with a lot of fanfare. So you don’t find a lot of restaurants with tablecloths on the table. Like our tables at Lincoln are made out of reclaimed wood and they are big chunky, chunky wooden tables, and the same with Sunshine, our other tavern as well. That’s one of the things I really like about it. When people come to Portland, they really can just relax. You don’t have to worry about all that fanfare, static and all that kind of stuff, and I think that is something that people really enjoy.

    It can be a little touristy — but in the summertime, we have a really, really amazing city park system. We have two parks I think are really beautiful. We have Forest Park, which is one of the largest city parks, I believe in the country, and it’s just a bunch of trails. You hardly realize you are in a city when you are walking through. There are mountain bikers, runners, hikers, and it’s really beautiful. We have also another park called Washington Park, and it’s the international test garden for roses. It’s really beautiful — and I don’t go that often; I used to live in that neighborhood and I used to go running up there — but it’s got a lot of trails and you can take a picnic up there in the summertime.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Jenn Louis answered the question: Jenn Louis

    What are the best cultural activities in Portland?

    I’m a big moviegoer; I go to the movies as often as I can. There’s a Fox theater downtown, and they do a really nice job of a balance between art-house films and more mainstream. I tend to go down there a lot. There’s also another called Living Room Theaters, and it’s much more of an art house. They have big comfy chairs, and it’s really nice — they have a little bar in front. They show some great films as well.

    Another thing that we have in Portland is Powell’s Books. I think its one of the largest bookstores in the country. Their claim to fame is the “City of Books,” I think they called it. It was like a block large and it was many floors, but now they have lots offshoots. There’s one in another neighborhood called Powell’s Books for Cooks and Gardeners. They have a technical bookstore. They’ve really, really grown and it’s a great store where you can get used, new, all sorts of stuff — it’s gigantic.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Jenn Louis answered the question: Jenn Louis

    What is the best time to visit Portland?

    I think fall. We tend to see rain from October to as late as July. It warms up in June and July; but the joke is, summer starts at least by July 5. So the day after the Fourth of July is our joke of our official beginning to summer. Usually, June will just kind of be cloudy, a little drizzly, and then it will warm up in July. I think my favorite time is mid- to end of September to mid-October. You still have those cool nights, those warm days, and there’s not a cloud in the sky. It’s pretty spectacular.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Jenn Louis answered the question: Jenn Louis

    What are the best hotels in Portland?

    There’s one downtown that a lot of people stay at — I’ve never stayed there — it’s called The Nines. What’s really cool about it is it was a huge renovation project on top of what used to be a Meier & Frank, which was a big department store in Oregon — it’s like the old-school, big department store from the turn of the century. It was a big building downtown, it’s now Macy’s, but they renovated the top floors. And there are a couple of restaurants in there, and they’ve done a bunch of food events that we’ve been part of. There’s a restaurant on the top that has just awesome views. It’s a really nice, modern renovation project, and they’ve done a good job.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Jenn Louis answered the question: Jenn Louis

    What are the best places for brunch in Portland?

    Well, Sunshine Tavern, of course. There’s a couple of things: We have a hen egg pizza, and I think that’s delicious. It’s two eggs on pizza with some wild oregano, and I love that pizza. I also love the Monte Cristo. It’s a gigantic sandwich that’s on brioche that’s been totally deep-fried and has a fried egg on top. It’s wonderful.

    There’s a couple of places I go for brunch that’s not traditional brunch, I suppose. I really like going out for dim sum. I go to Ocean City Seafood for dim sum. I go to Taqueria Portland — they have a really great pozole and a lamb soup. It’s a bones-in-your-soup kind of thing, it’s rustic and I like that a lot.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Jenn Louis answered the question: Jenn Louis

    What are the best bars in Portland?

    I like Club 21. It kind of makes me laugh. It’s an old, old bar — a total old-man bar. I think it was bought by some hipsters and renovated. The hipster scene is fine with me, but I just like it because it’s funny. It’s pretty close to my house. It’s got this old sign that says something like, “Steaks for your enjoyment.” It’s an old neon sign. It’s along the roof and it’s gigantic. Yeah, it’s super cheesy. They did a kind of Wisconsin theme of somebody’s basement as far as the bar. But it’s just nice; they’re really nice there. It’s on the grungier side than nice, but it’s low-key and fun.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Jenn Louis answered the question: Jenn Louis

    What is Jenn Louis’ favorite airline?

    It just depends. When I travel for work, somebody just books those tickets for us and we fly whatever. Being on the West Coast, we fly a lot of Alaska Air; but that’s not exclusive. We’ve flown a little bit of Delta recently and United. So it just depends on where we’re going and who buys the tickets.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Jenn Louis answered the question: Jenn Louis

    What’s the best trip Jenn Louis has ever taken?

    My husband and I always try to do something that’s not food related. And so we went to Chicago twice this year, and on one of the trips, we took an architectural boat tour. It was awesome. They take you along the river, you have a cocktail and you just look at all of these amazing buildings that really vary in style. It was a beautiful, beautiful day and it was just so much fun. I learned so much about architecture and what makes Chicago so special. I had no idea how cool Chicago is, and I’d only been there literally for less than 24 hours in the past.

    Probably about five years ago, before we opened our restaurant Lincoln, we went to Oaxaca in Mexico and somebody said you have to go on the Botanical Garden tour. And both of us were like, “Ugh, I don’t want to go on a Botanical Garden Tour.” And we went and it was spectacular. It was a four-hour tour, and I wished it were longer. Obviously, it helps when somebody is really excited about the subject; but it was history, it was food, it was beautiful. It was an incredible experience. It was one of those things that I had no idea what I was getting into, and I’m like, “I can’t believe that I am going to go on this.” But it was so great.

    And the last one was in Rome. My chef de cuisine at Lincoln, his parents had just been to Rome, and he said, “Oh, you have to take the Vatican tour with Alessio.” And so we emailed him. It was very expensive, and it was worth every penny. He grew up across the street from the Vatican. He used to be security in the Vatican. And he knew every single bit of everything. It was just the two of us, my husband and myself, and it was an incredible tour. We learned so much history, culture, art — he knew everything.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Jenn Louis answered the question: Jenn Louis

    What does Jenn Louis always bring back from her travels?

    If I am going internationally into a market that’s really different from mine, I’ll always bring stuff back. From Italy, I brought back a couple of gnocchi boards, a little truffle shaver, some different cheese graters, some beans that are like wild chickpeas called cicerchia — things that I just can’t get locally. I kind of collect that way.

    I got some at farmers markets. I got some at little houseware stores, like little tiny houseware stores that might have some pots or pans — nothing fancy. They’re little holes-in-the wall that might have strainers, trashcans and cheese graters, just random stuff. I try to collect little pieces like that.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Jenn Louis answered the question: Jenn Louis

    What does Jenn Louis always travel with?

    I always check [my bags]. If I am seeing colleagues, then I usually travel with a few little things that I have from Oregon. For example, there’s Oregon sea salt, and I’ll travel with some of those to hand out or something special like that. As far as personal stuff, I try to go as minimal as possible just so I don’t have to lug too much stuff around.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Jenn Louis answered the question: Jenn Louis

    What kind of restaurants does Jenn Louis like?

    I like to see what’s really authentic to the area, so when I go to L.A., there’s a taco place that I love to go to because we don’t get tacos like that up in Portland. I like seeing what’s going on culinary-wise, but I also really love traditional food. And I don’t need high-end all the time; I’m very, very casual, so I would much rather go to something where I can just relax. I work really hard, and I work a lot of hours, so when I can go somewhere and just really relax and enjoy the food and the hospitality, that’s more important than getting dressed up and going all out.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Jenn Louis answered the question: Jenn Louis

    What are Jenn Louis’ favorite hotels?

    It really depends, and I don’t always stay at the highest end. Hospitality comes in many forms. We were in San Francisco and we stayed at the Hotel Vitale, and it’s a really, really nice hotel. It was certainly a treat for us.

    In L.A., when we go, there’s a hotel called the Chamberlain. It’s a small boutique hotel. I don’t really like bed and breakfasts that much; I really like a little more privacy than something like that. But I don’t really like huge hotels, either. What’s really cool about the Chamberlain is it’s kind of off the beaten path, so it’s really easy to get to, but it’s tucked in a neighborhood, so it’s still quiet. I would always rather stay at something a little more quiet than a little more hip.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Jenn Louis answered the question: Jenn Louis

    What are Jenn Louis’ favorite cities?

    I love going to San Francisco. I love New York, domestically, obviously. I spent a really great week in Rome last year.

    I didn’t grow up in a city, and I live in a small city, so I like things that I don’t have in my own market — I really like more urban density. I like that balance of being able to really enjoy myself without too much stimulation but just enough that I can have a really good time. I like rural as well, but I like to be able to eat some really good food, obviously. I like to stay somewhere really comfortable. I like to be able to have a good variety of art and culture. It’s fun to go somewhere where the weather is not like yours at that time. And I really like great hospitality. I work in the hospitality field; so when I travel, it’s really nice to be taken care of.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Jenn Louis answered the question: Jenn Louis

    How accurate does Jenn Louis think Portlandia is?

    Here’s my tagline on that, “A lot of that’s true and it’s really embarrassing.” It’s flattering and embarrassing at the same time. I think that the thing with Portland is that it is full of ferocious spirits, which I really, really love.

    I’m 41 year old, I have four businesses and I work really hard; I’m super ferocious. But I was able to do that without any investors and I could do that in my market here. I think that’s a really special thing that there’s a reason it’s not as cheap as it used to be. I have an employee, a line cook, who I was talking to the other day, and I said, “How much is your rent?” And he goes, “250 bucks a month.” And I’m like, “Where do you live in the house?” And he goes, “I live in the garage.” So he’s 21 years old, he pays $250 a month for rent, he lives in a garage and he doesn’t care. And it’s one of those things where if you live in a house with a bunch of people, you get to do what you love. You know, if you’re a line cook in New York City, you have a much rougher life ahead of you as far as paying rent. My cooks work 40-hour weeks; in New York you work a lot more than 40-hour weeks. In Portland, you pretty much have two days off a week together. I work my staff four days a week. In New York, you are probably working five to six [days], if not seven. The quality of life is different.

    We don’t have the diversity, which I really miss sometimes; but that’s very different from living in a larger city like New York. And that’s why I’m really happy that I get to travel. We don’t have the urban density, so it’s a very different market to run businesses in. When the economy fell apart, Portland was hit harder than most cities, and we’re the slowest to come back. We’re a logging city — we don’t have a ton of industry in Portland — but it’s a really lovely way of life. Our farmers market — I don’t know if there’s a better one in the country. I was talking to someone in San Francisco and they said, “Your farmers market is phenomenal.” We have farmers markets year-round; in the summertime, they’re every day and they are in neighborhoods. It’s a nice way of life.

    Going back to Portlandia, it is super, super quirky here. It is one of the strangest places that you could imagine. Both of my restaurants, the walls are windows, and so you see what goes by every day — people riding double-decker bicycles, people wearing tutus. I joke that it’s embarrassingly true at times, but it’s a real quirky place to live. Certainly the show is embellished, but there’s never a shortage of laughter. It’s funny.