Married musicians turned restaurateurs, Aaron Tomasko and Rachel Brashear, are filling a niche — and bellies — by serving up Jewish Ashkenazi staples at Sweet Lorraine’s Latkes & More, located in Portland, Oregon.
What started out as a food cart focused solely on slinging latkes has evolved into a full Jewish dairy establishment. Portland has a long history of formidable chefs emerging from tiny food carts, but the city is not as well known for Jewish food coming out of those carts. While Jewish immigrants began arriving in Oregon in the mid-1800s, Portland’s Jewish community has historically been relatively small in size compared to larger coastal cities, albeit it continues to grow and thrive. For context, there are more Jews living in the Upper West Side of Manhattan than in the entire state of Oregon. Regardless of the exact population count, it’s clear there’s a hunger for Jewish food.
“Portland has a lot more Jewish people here than the Jewish people think there are, and it is a foodie city,” Tomasko told The Nosher.
Brashear added, “We also have a lot of regulars and friends who are interested in Jewish food and don’t have a Jewish connection. New York expatriots come to us, or people who saw something on Seinfeld and always wanted to try it.”
It’s clear why there’s mass appeal, at Sweet Lorraine’s the menu features dishes rarely found anywhere else in the state: classic Askenazi dishes like kasha varnishkes, noodle kugel, buttery matzah brei and egg creams. Tomasko and Brashear pay attention to every detail of every dish they serve, with painstakingly handmade potato knishes, challah made from scratch for egg sandwiches, lox sourced from the Smokery — a small local fish business run by an Irish Jewish family — and fry up latkes fresh to order.
As a former deli owner and latke enthusiast, I can confidently say Sweet Lorraine’s makes the best latkes I’ve ever had. They have a crackly, crispy exterior, but are shockingly airy and light inside; wide, but not too thick, and not too thin.
Among friends and family, Tomasko has always had a reputation for making stellar latkes. The pair even joked about opening a latke cart for years. When Covid hit in 2020, they found themselves suddenly unemployed and unable to play gigs or teach music classes in person. The inside joke started to seem like a viable career pivot. While they had no prior chef experience, they took a chance on their gut instincts: People love latkes. Newfound unemployment gave the couple time to develop their concept and test their recipes, and by February 2021, Sweet Lorraine’s opened up shop. They named their cart after Tomasko’s grandmother, who was the inspiration for their menu. Lorraine was known among friends and family for her exceptional latkes, and she taught Tomasko’s mother, who in turn taught him how to make the family’s signature potato pancakes.
“The first year we were open ended up being the last year of her life,” Brashear explained, “she was so proud of it. She told everyone she met that she had a restaurant named after her.”
“[Opening Sweet Lorraine’s] allowed me to have a deeper relationship with my grandma than I ever had before,” said Tomakso.
It’s no secret that it’s a tricky time to be in the restaurant business; the cost of running a food cart in Portland has nearly doubled in the past year. After a few years of being open, the food cart pod where they were located decided to close, so Sweet Lorraine’s relocated inside the Labyrinth Forge Brewery.
Their Jewish food business remains a family operation: Brashear heads up the baking and Tomasko mans the griddle. With good communication, they’ve found their stride as partners in life and in food, and dream of opening a little cafe or lunch counter in the future. For them, Sweet Lorraine’s is more than a restaurant — it’s a community gathering space, and one that’s explicitly Jewish while still being welcoming to all.
Tomasko offers, “Food is this magical thing and it’s our main passion, and our goal is to focus on fostering that connection that unites this community.”