Along with his wife Kathleen, Will Pratt owns and operates Tandem Coffee Roasters (in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood) and Tandem Cafe and Bakery (on Congress Street). He is pictured here with a Last Word.
How did you end up with the Last Word?
Chris, who is one of our baristas, works at Hunt and Alpine . He is one of the first people that got me into cocktails. He makes us drinks like Sazeracs and other classics. He introduced me to The Last Word through this other drink called the Palabra Ultima, which is a Last Word with tequila instead of gin. That was just like the best thing I had ever tasted. It is dangerously refreshing. You can definitely just pound it. If I want to get just one drink, I won't get that because I will drink it too fast and then…
"I should have another one!"
Yeah! So I will try to go with another one that takes a while to drink. But everything about it is great, even that "dangerously refreshing" part.
You recently opened a bakery and cafe in the West End. What was the experience of building that out like?
It was really kind of scary to build. It was weird not doing it ourselves. We built the shop in East Bayside out by ourselves and we were in there and always working on it, looking at it collaboratively. We scrapped it together with free wood that we had available to us and we sort of just threw it together. We were lucky it came out okay. But it is scary working on a space and having a contractor do it. We were worried it would come out too nice.
Something I certainly notice about the aesthetic in your spot in East Bayside is that it feels tangible and homemade without feeling sloppy, but the new spot came out so nice, though not slick to its detriment.
We went with similar materials in there, and so it has a similar feel. And we didn't do anything that I couldn't do by way of wood work, so there are no giant elements that we paid a zillion dollars for. But it was a little scary and we talked about it a lot. It looks really nice, you know? And we were worried that maybe it would end up too nice.
Someone had mentioned that you had a larger vision for a cafe and bakery before opening your first spot, which is more or less just a cafe. Was that always the case?
We were living in New york and kind of surprised to find out that we kind of liked it. We started looking for a spot down there. We had planned to leave two years after the day we arrived, but we ended up liking it quite a bit up to a point. But then we eventually started to not like it so much anymore and then it set in that if we owned a business there, the things that were funny and endearing about the city wouldn't be funny anymore. Like how every time the light turns green and someone honks at you, that wouldn't be funny anymore.
At some point it becomes psychological warfare.
I remember sitting on Flushing Ave. one day and watching all of that happening and I thought, "Oh, man, if I was grabbing ice right now for a cafe that I opened and owned, I would be losing my mind." That is New York and that is how it should be, but the only way I didn't go insane there was knowing that I would only be there for a short amount of time.
But we decided to move to Portland and we told [baker + pastry chef] Briana [Holt] that we were coming to Portland to open a bakery and that she should come. We moved and we got the space in East Bayside. We were thinking, how the Hell are we going to get her into this space? We had her come up and look at it and tried to figure out how to get everything in there, but it was going to be hard. We couldn't make sense of it, so we planned to eventually do something in the West End.
I think at some point coffee shops became more about selling coffee than having individual personalities. There is a resurgence, though, in providing that personality and I see Tandem as a leader in that.
There are some restaurants, bars and cafes that I like as soon as I walk in — I like them before I have had anything to eat or drink — but I walk in and think, this is my new favorite place and I am coming here all the time. Usually, or hopefully, the food or drink matches. That has always been really important to me. Atmosphere and customer service are first, and then coffee. We want you to come in, feel like it is awesome, then realize the food and coffee is good. A place can have amazing food, but if I don't like being there, I am not going to go.
We wanted to create places we would want to hang out and it's sad to us because we can't go here. You know, you build a place to be your ideal, and you can't really go to it as a customer.
I have a female friend who, about ten years ago, was frustrated with dating. She said to me, "You know who I want to have sex with? Me. I know I am really good and I will never get to experience it."
Right, we will never get to experience it from the outside. I'm sure the guys from Eventide would just kill to go to Eventide . They've never been. Can you imagine?