Portland’s dining scene is notorious for its uncanny ability to cater to every possible dietary restriction and request (thanks, Portlandia). But sometimes it’s refreshing to hear, “Just shut up and eat!” John Fimmano brought this East coast mentality of enjoying straight-up, unapologetic food to Portland back in fall 2010 when he debuted the Shut Up and Eat food cart in the A La Carts pod. Fimmano and his business partner Glenn recently transitioned to a brick-and-mortar shop, retiring the food cart for catering purposes only. The new 30-seat, casual Shut Up and Eat spot still dishes up epically large, meat-laden sandwiches, along with a few extra goodies (breakfasts, salads, veggie options and soups). The one thing that hasn’t changed? Fimmano’s authentic, Italian home cooking. Or as he likes to call it, “good old-fashioned awesomeness”.
E+E: How long did you have the food cart for?
John Fimmano: Just about 2 years. There’s 2 of us, me and my partner Glenn. Originally we were commercial painters. 4 years ago I came out here from Philadelphia and started working for a big painting outfit and Glenn was my boss, actually. Opening the cart was something I wanted to do, so he retired and I quit, and we opened the truck.
E+E: What does the transition from the cart to the restaurant entail?
JF: We’re pretty excited about it. The restaurant has really more of a small diner, juke joint feel, so takeout is gonna be really key. It’s funny though, coming from Philadelphia, I’m trying to change the culture in Portland about what constitutes as takeout. Here, it’s like, pizza or Thai. Whereas back home, it’s very common to get takeout sandwiches for Friday night dinner.
E+E: What made you choose this neighborhood? Did you always want to set-up shop here?
JF: Yeah, when we started the cart, we knew we wanted to be a little neighborhood joint on the corner somewhere, so we figured, why not start there and really see how it takes, see how people respond to it. I really like how this area is not out in the middle of nowhere, but we’re also not right in the spotlight. We’re certainly not out to be Portland’s next top chefs or anything like that. We’re strictly about big, elbow-jerking sandwiches.
I am a little concerned with how the neighborhood will take the name though…
E+E: Are you going to keep the name as “Shut Up and Eat”?
JF: Yeah, it was really kitschy and fun for the cart and it worked really well, and we definitely considered changing it for a storefront atmosphere, but you kinda lose the wind in your sails if you do that. And really, the name represents us; we don’t walk on eggshells around people.
E+E: We know your sandwiches are very meat-heavy. Will that change with the new restaurant?
JF: That’s our market, and we’re well aware of that; we’re firm believers in staying under our umbrella. I think vegetables are fantastic, and we will have a ton of veggie options, but there will be no meat substitutes. I have an Italian background; we use a lot of cheese, gluten and meat. We try to do our best to create a few things that can satisfy everyone, but we can’t just change our whole business and compromise what we think something should taste like because people decide that they only want to eat a certain way. That kind of attitude is what our name is all about.
E+E: We love it! No bullshit.
E+E: Coming from Philadelphia, what do you think about Portland?
JF: I don’t plan on going anywhere, I love it here. It’s a fun city to be in, it’s fun to watch it grow. You get an honest shot when you try to do things here. I may not agree with everything the city does, but at least it’s doing something, as opposed to some cities that start to feel really stale after a while. In my opinion, if nothing’s happening, we’re going backwards and it starts to look really dreary and cold. Here’s there’s so much life, things are happening.
Shut Up and Eat
3848 SE Gladstone St
Portland, OR 97202
Currently: Open Tuesday-Thursday 9am-7pm
After 9/4/12: Open Tuesday-Sunday 9am-9pm
Written by: Lauren Kodiak