THE HISTORY OF BUTTERTOES RESTAURANT
AN INTERVIEW WITH CAROLYN NEWSOM
The charming Buttertoes Restaurant was open for a decade in the J.C. Havely House at 3244 SE Belmont. It opened in December of 1979 and closed in 1989. Owned and operated by three sisters who grew up in Portland – Carolyn, Charmon, and Cherous. Their grandmother was an early SE Portland pioneer who, in the early 1900s, lived in a house near a creek at 14th & Salmon in the Brooklyn neighborhood. This early pioneer house is still owned by the family. It was brought on horse-drawn trailer and moved to its resting place at SE 26th and Lincoln. Their grandmother worked downtown, as a bookkeeper for Singer sewing machines. She would take the trolley to 21st & Powell (the end of the line) and walk home from there. Their great uncle owned a sewing machine store on Powell Blvd for over 50 years.
The three sisters always loved cooking. When they opened Buttertoes, Carolyn, the oldest, had just finished her physiology degree at college at Warner Pacific College, and was looking for something to do. On a rainy Independence Day, the sisters were sitting around a fire, and started talking about running a restaurant. And that was that, they started a business!
When they started looking for a location for their new restaurant venture, their friend Jerry Bosco offered them the bottom floor of the Havely House on Belmont. The Havely House was built in 1893 by J.C. Havely, a railroad tycoon. Caroyln was told by a customer that the house once hosted SE Portland suffragette meetings in the late 1880s/early 1900s.
Ben & Jerry had been running a restoration business called “Victorian Facades” out of the house, but at this point it was just being used as one of their many “storage” places - packed from ceiling to floor with structural antiques and wood. Before Buttertoes could open, they had to redo all the sheetrock walls, which were in terrible shape, Carolyn recalls. They really cleaned the place up, inside and out. Ben & Jerry put in beautiful salvaged ceiling medallions, light fixtures, and stained glass. A striking pair of sailing ships stained glass was used on the front doors.
The sisters used a lot of old family recipes. They didn’t serve any beef or pork and didn’t have a grill. Everything on the menu was named after fairy tales - like the “Little Red Riding Hood Sandwich,” a hot sandwich with cheese turkey and ham, the “Lorelei Shrimp Salad,” the “City Mouse Sandwich” on white bread with cranberry sauce and cream cheese, and the “Country Mouse Sandwich” with veggies and sprouts. They were also known for making wonderful pastries, fruit salad, and oven potatoes.
The sisters shared responsibilities of management, cooking, and serving. They would do a lot of their prep cooking on Sundays. Buttertoes always drew a big brunch crowd, often queuing up outside the doors. They hosted tea time for children, giving each child a silver penny. They would also do a lot of catering and community events, like the Sunnyside Centennial Parade, where they marched in the parade all wearing fairy tale costumes. They loved doing “productions” where they would dress up and put on a show for friends and customers.
The whimsical decorations of Buttertoes were put together by the sisters. They always had a love for fairy tales, plays, and theater. They filled the restaurant with lots of old toys, and pictures of nursery rhymes. A huge mermaid painting huge in the front room of Buttertoes. Many people will often recall this beautiful piece of art when reminiscing about Buttertoes. The painting was done by their friend and local artist, David Delamare and the frame was restored by Jerry Bosco.
Perhaps the most lasting tale from Buttertoes was those spurred by the Ghost of Aunt Lydia. A friendly ghost, with a high-collared dress, black shoes, and her hair pinned up. Lydia would move things in the kitchen around and rearrange the table settings. The cook and manager once saw a woman go into the back room (which had no exit) and when they went back there to see who it was, no one there. One of the waitresses finally quit because they felt so uncomfortable, and Carolyn and the sisters didn’t like going there by themselves. The tenets who lived upstairs in the rental apartment also reported strange things, like rocking chairs moving without anyone in them, and strange dreams. A psychic finally came into the restaurant and did a reading, and confirmed a spirit was present. These stories live on today in the Pied Cow, as it seems that Lydia still haunts the old house.
After their neighbors Ben & Jerry passed away in 1989, the sisters felt that it was an end of an era and time to move on. They closed Buttertoes and the Havely House was sold to the owners of Pied Cow. The sisters then started the Buttertoes Gift Shop on Hawthorne, which was open for about 13 years. David Delamare and his wife Wendy lived above the gift shop for many years.
Carolyn is also well-known in Portland for being one of the founders of the NW Children’s Theater & School. An accomplished pianist, Carolyn has served as musical director for many NWCT shows and numerous local theatrical productions. She taught theater arts for Portland Public Schools, Portland Repertory Theater, and Portland Civic Theater.