- Jordan D. Smith
Behind the Scenes at the Portland Party Store
For local businessman, Josh Cross, serving his community delicious pizza, donuts, and treats is a labor of love. After working in the restaurant business for many years, Cross jumped at the chance to purchase the Portland Party Store in 2013 when it went up for sale. “It really felt like a good fit,” to make the move to more of a take-out service restaurant says Cross remembering his time working as a chef in various restaurants including the former Duke’s (now Fabiano’s).
At the Party Store, the day starts as early at 5:30 AM, most days. Staff are hard at work making donuts, breakfast pizza, and breakfast burritos and brewing coffee when most Portlanders are just waking up. While the Party Store if famous locally for their variety of fresh donuts, Cross says that there is no real secret ingredient in the off-the-shelf batter. The difference though is in the frying oil they use–a palm oil that comes as a solid and then is melted before being used to fry up the donuts. Not to be mistaken as a health food, the party store’s donuts get their distinguishing crisp texture from the oil, says Cross.
As many as 25 dozen per hour can roll off the store’s “donut robot”. From there, they are decorated by hand by being dipped into frosting and sprinkles or sprinkled with other toppings. Cross says that they pride themselves on tying new donut toppings. He especially likes getting ideas from other bakeries on social media and seeing what other people are trying. A typical day can see anywhere between 35 to 40 dozen donuts sold. On National Donut Day though they have sold as many as 3500 donuts!
While donuts are rolling off the “donut robot,” staff are busy making the Party Store’s famous breakfast pizza. Cross says the difference in their pizza (breakfast or otherwise) is two-fold. First, they make their own dough while many restaurants and chains buy dough premade. Mixed up daily, the dough rises in the cooler overnight before being portioned from enormous garbage can-sized bins into smaller pieces to make a pizza. A typical day can see as much as 85 pounds of dough turned into pizza equivalent to several of the large bins full!
Cross says they also pride themselves on their sauce, which is in fact a “secret recipe.” “We add a lot of different spices to what is essentially ground tomato and basil sauce” that is by itself rather unremarkable says Cross. He says that the other difference is the thickness of their sauce. Many restaurants he says water down the sauce to make it go farther but this results in a sauce that doesn’t stick with the pizza well. After being assembled the pizzas bake for precisely five and a half minutes at 500 degrees. The controls are even on the back of the oven so they can’t be bumped so that every pizza comes through consistently baked. “We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel,” says Cross, “just trying to make a good pizza.”