A Letter from Papaya Thief

After nine years in Puerto Rico, hundreds of recipes developed, thousands of plates served, millions of gallons of booze sold, I’ve decided to move on. As sad as I am to leave my friends and business behind, I’m excited for the future.

In 2006, I flew into San Juan Christmas morning, and Shawn the Pilot was the first person I met as he flew me across the island to Mayaguez. Lauren picked me up with ice cold Medallas in the back seat. I’d never been east of Denver, never been to an island or any tropical place. I was about to meet her entire family (we hadn’t been dating long). We were going to open a small bar with a small menu within two days at a 9-room inn. We agreed to four months, then we would move back to the Northwest and I would finish applying to grad school.

Turns out we were good at it and people liked us. Looking back it was nothing special, only five things on the menu to start with, but back then there weren’t many options. Your choices were burgers or pinchos or pizza. We wanted to eat good things. Salads, maybe a steak that wasn’t fried or over-cooked, drinks that weren’t made with fake corn syrup mixers. And since we just came from Olympia we were still naïve enough to think we could change the world. Recycling was nearly nonexistent, businesses served everything in plastic cups and styrofoam plates. We invested in sugar cane based to-go boxes and cups. Iceberg lettuce was still considered healthy, but we craved baby greens and fresh vegetables that didn’t come from the frozen aisle. Over time I taught myself new tricks based on what we craved. We wanted a good BLT, so we made our own bacon. We missed hummus and pita, so we started cooking our own chickpeas and baking bread every morning, and roasted local eggplants for baba ganoush. I was lucky enough to travel a few summers to work with amazing chefs in Portland and New York, and returned refreshed and inspired for the winter seasons. Lauren and I had split up early on, but we still worked well together and shared a similar vision. As restaurant workers all our lives, we wanted to treat our employees with respect and dignity, because if we took pride in our work, maybe they would too.

I’d always had that nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I needed to continue to do the things I’d set my mind on when I was a kid. At the same time I was devoted to learning the art and the technique of cooking. I’m forever grateful to this community for letting me use them as guinea pigs. There were a few mess-ups and we learned from our mistakes, but for the most part we’ve always strived to build something different and beautiful and inviting. After six years at Casa Isleña, I applied to graduate school and was accepted, but the school didn’t offer any funding. Luckily, around the same time, Lauren and her sister and brother-in-law were able to negotiate a lease with the owner of The Black Eagle, an historic spot with beautiful sunsets and a legacy of serving only steaks cut by a band-saw in the back, and lobsters caught on the reef in front. Of course I said yes. I promised three years, and now my time has come.

I want to thank everyone who has supported us, all of our farmers and fishermen and customers, all you lovers of good drinks and good food. I leave the Eagle in the best shape it’s been in years, and Lauren and our crew, all of whom are steadfast, loyal, and passionate. I have no doubt that La Copa Llena will only get better. Our new chef, Brian, who some of you know well, is well-trained, talented, and dedicated. Luis Rivera, our head prep cook and my right hand, is also dedicated to the high standards we’ve set for ourselves. While they still have all the old recipes, I have no doubt that they will create their own excellent plates with fresh eyes and clean palettes.

I wish you all the best of luck. The future is exciting.

Much Love,

Brendan

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5 Replies to “A Letter from Papaya Thief”

  1. I wish you the best of luck in the future….hope you come back for a visit from time to time…you will be missed.

    1. The plan so far… shipping my car to Florida, driving across the US back to Oregon via New Orleans-Chicago-St. Paul. Then I have a writing residency in Vermont for the month of August. Somewhere along the line I’ll need to find a job. And applying to MFA programs in the fall.

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