It feels as if the cacophonous buzz for Jojo, the Southeast Portland fried chicken cart, will never dissipate. Justin Hintze, a former real estate agent turned chef, started to draw attention to his cart back in 2019 — not even for the food necessarily, but for his absurdist captions (“Which is ur favorite photo. don’t vote in the comments just whisper it quietly to ur self!”). Soon, however, people started to notice the food, too: the cart’s smoked-then-fried chicken and hulking jojos with mashed-potato-fluffy interiors were enough to create exuberance for the cart, but Jojo’s gargantuan sandwiches became the real Instagram fodder and city-wide obsession. The cart sells out and attracts hordes of devotees, who run to the John’s Marketplace pod for Hintze’s one-off specials and, in the age of coronavirus, free food days.
This year, Hintze will be able to serve even more fans: Jojo will soon have a sibling restaurant in Northwest Portland, with cocktails, more vegan options, and the same array of sandwiches and chicken that made Hintze famous.
Taking over the former Daily Cafe space, Jojo will offer the same core menu from the original cart: greatest hits like fried chicken sandwiches smothered in Alabama white sauce and pepper relish, shokupan patty melts with caramelized onions, double-fried jojos smothered in cheddar and chives. Hintze plans to add some particularly popular specials to the main menu, like his goat cheese patty melt with fig jam and pepper relish, and teased the potential for a brunch menu complete with breakfast sandwiches. His main focus at the restaurant, however, will be expanding his vegan and vegetarian options. “We’re basically going from two fryers to six,” Hintze says. “To be able to have a fryer dedicated to the tofu and a flat top that’s just dedicated to vegan burgers and buns, that’s a game changer for us.” At the moment, he’s planning on adding versions of the core sandwiches using tofu patties, in which Ota tofu is battered and double-fried. He’ll also start making Impossible burgers and tofu nuggets.
From there, much of Jojo’s restaurant will involve outside talent: Hintze is in the process of hiring a pastry chef for the restaurant, and Ashelee Wells, who most recently mixed drinks at Thai barbecue bar Eem, is currently developing a cocktail menu. Wells originally had a few ideas for the bar, but after working in the cart for a few weeks, she started to rethink things. “We get to a point where we don’t stop moving, I like that energy,” Wells says. “But as I was in there, learning how to toss ‘jos, I’m like, ‘I don’t have time for foams; I don’t have time to be rehydrating sea moss.’” Now, she’s thinking through tall drinks that she describes as “easy and enjoyable,” things to sip out of a collins glass. “I asked my friends what they would want, and they said, ‘The drinks have to be as smashable as the food.’ I like that,” she says. For her, that might mean a boozy milkshake with figs rehydrated in Fernet Branca, or a version of a Blue Hawaii that matches the color of the truck. The menu will rotate often, but Wells knows she’ll be playing with a few blenders and some slushie machines. Those drinks will be available to-go and also for onsite consumption at around 15 sidewalk tables.
Manuel Quijada will oversee both the cart and the restaurant as the general manager, and Hintze is hiring another manager to oversee the cart as the restaurant grows. “A big part of what I’m doing here is, I’ve made our minimum wage $17 an hour, I’m going to continue that into the restaurant. We’ll have paid time off and health insurance for all employees,” he says. “It’s just good business. It’s not altruism; it’s investing in people and that return on investment is a good thing.”
Part of that protection for employees involves the choice to avoid indoor service “until it’s safe to do so,” in Hintze’s words. Once the interior opens, however, it will have a substantial indoor bar — “we’re building the biggest damn bar we can” — as well as plants and some mid-century modern design touches. “I don’t want it to look like a soulless hipster coffee shop,” Hintze says.
For now, Hintze is hoping to open his restaurant in the late spring or early summer, at 902 NW 13th Avenue.
• Jojo [Official]
• Fried Chicken Cart Jojo Ruled Instagram by Fully Satirizing Itself [EPDX]
• Portland Food Truck Jojo Gives Away Free Meals as Restaurant Workers Lose Jobs [EPDX]