Reo’s Ribs gives up on Johns Landing
By Cari Hachmann/ The Portland Observer
Co-owner of Reo’s Ribs, also known as uncle to rapper Snoop Lion, Reo Varnado will no longer be cooking up his famous thick and juicy-sweet Mississippi-style meats in Johns Landing.
Varnado was forced to close his barbeque restaurant after escalating complaints from neighbors about smoke from his outdoor cookers pressured his landlord to cut his five-year lease short.
“I cried for so many days,” said Varnado a big, curly-haired man dressed in a yellow suit and sitting in the Portland Observer office along with his brother, Ricky.
A native of Magnolia, Miss., Varnado first opened his southern-style barbeque joint on Tualatin Valley Highway in 1999. He served customers there for 13 years before moving his restaurant to a strip mall on Southwest Macadam Avenue hoping for better business.
Since his arrival to the 2,200-square-foot space between downtown Portland and Lake Oswego two years ago, Varnado said he’s felt unwelcome.
In February 2011, a neighbor living in a rowhouse behind the retail complex, Gerriann Fox, sued Varnado and the strip mall’s owners for damages by smoke from the restaurant’s barbeque smokers pouring into her home. She claims the smoke caused her headaches and other health issues.
While too much smoke has been the headlining problem for most of the negative attention directed at Reo’s, Varnado feels that a darker issue lays at the heart of the matter.
“Prejudice turned everybody against us,” said Varnado, who is looking for a new place to open his restaurant, but not likely in the same area. “I don’t want to go back because of the way they treated me.”
Varnado claims he’s received multiple racist threats.
The restaurant owner says he’s been spit on, approached, watched, and followed in his car by strangers. “I’ve felt threatened by people lurking near the restaurant,” he said.
While some police officers have served him well, Varnado says he’s been harassed about having a permit for his cookers by others. He also says he’s been bullied into shutting down by a health inspector.
“It made me so angry,” said Varnado. People have vandalized his cookers– broken grill pipes, urinated on them and cluttered them with broken bottles.
“I hate to be mistreated,” he said, “I left Mississippi to better myself and I come out here and it’s the same stuff.”
Varnado, who happens to be black, is not the only restaurant owner who feels like racism played a role in their closure. Tim Causey, co-owner of the Arlington Mart in Gladstone, says people made it impossible for him to operate his business.
In the barbeque business for four years, while his business partner, Scott Richardson, had run the main store for 16 years, Causey says neighbors filed three or four “legally meritless” cases against them before they were finally shut down by code enforcement for operating their barbeque grill outside.
“When people use civic positions and financial leverage to oppress you and take out your business—that’s problematic,” he said.