Portland business owner gives up cafe after months of pandemic grind

Portland business owner gives up cafe after months of pandemic grind

For virtually all working Oregonians, the pandemic has prompted a profound change. The Oregonian/OregonLive spoke to four who upended their careers, whether by necessity or by choice.

Erica Escalante threw herself into work when the pandemic hit, determined to save the cafe she had spent nine years building.

She started taking online orders for pickup or delivery, and she turned the interior of her Northeast Portland coffee shop, then called Arrow Coffeehouse, into a play area for her 7- and 2-year-old daughters, who she no longer felt comfortable sending to daycare. The uncertainty of the pandemic made her wary about hiring other employees, so her husband quit his job as an accountant to help watch the kids and keep the cafe afloat. Escalante began working seven days a week, beginning at 3 a.m. to bake, anticipating that the grind would only last a couple months.

But by February 2021, she had worked nearly 11 months without taking a day off. Her business, rebranded as Cafe Reina, was thriving, but she was exhausted.

She shut the cafe for three months, hoping the extended break would revive her. But when she reopened later that spring, she felt just as burnt out. At one point, her 7-year-old daughter told her father that she wanted her mom to play with her but was too scared to ask because Escalante seemed so stressed.

That’s when she realized she couldn’t hang on to her business any longer.

“My mental health could not recover from the year prior,” said Escalante, 30. “I could not get my head above water. It was just so overwhelming and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to be with my family and be in a job that was a little bit easier.”

Escalante was just 21 when she took over a coffee shop in Damascus. She ran that business for four years before opening the cafe in Portland. For almost a decade, she had been her own boss.

But in August, Escalante began searching for a new opportunity. She found it with Canyon Coffee, which offered her the chance to lead their expansion in the greater Los Angeles area. The job would give her the chance to be closer to her extended family and in an area with a larger Latino population, and she would no longer be responsible for keeping a business afloat on her own.

In September, she announced she was closing Cafe Reina.

Now a month into the new job, Escalante still thinks often about her cafe in Northeast Portland. She realizes how much she loved sharing her baked goods with the community and the praise they won from her customers.

But she doesn’t regret her decision.

“I remember I was cleaning out my coffee shop crying, but I was also extremely happy,” Escalante said. “It is weird feeling such a deep sense of loss and relief at the same time.”

— Jamie Goldberg; jgoldberg@oregonian.com; @jamiebgoldberg


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