From homeless to restaurant owner and second chance employer


Ron Thomas of Riptz City Eats launches new late-night delivery and to-go eatery

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A new restaurant in the Portland metro area aims not only to provide a variety of classic American dishes to customers for those late-night cravings, but also acts as a second-chance employer. 

Ron Thomas of Riptz City Eats knows what it’s like to experience homelessness himself and has worked through his business to pay it forward over the years

Now he’s grateful for how some have invested in the next phase of his business, including financial support from charitable organization Mercy Corps and being able to rent a commercial kitchen from property owned by Harsch Investment Properties.

Ron Thomas, owner of Riptz City Eats. May 25, 2021 (KOIN).

Thomas said while many places have turned him down in the past when he asked for support getting the business up and running, due to having gone through bankruptcy in the past and struggling for a higher credit score, he said the deal he and Harsch have struck is one he considers an “opportunity.”

“The opportunity was, they invested in me by giving me a chance,” Thomas said.  

Riptz City Eats’ new location is at 4105 SW 117th Ave. in Beaverton, at the Canyon Place Shopping Center. Similar to the now-shuttered Pizza Hut that once operated there, the restaurant is to-go only and offers delivery via apps like Grubhub and Doordash, but does not have a dine-in option. 

The restaurant has six distinct menus to choose from, ranging from soul food like wings and mac and cheese, to fried chicken, burgers, pizza, barbecue and Mexican food. 

In addition to having a physical storefront, Thomas said the business acts as a “virtual kitchen,” meaning the six distinct menus show up as individual restaurants on apps like Grubhub and Doordash: Soul Food, Momma Bear Fried Chicken, Badd Burgers PDX, Touch of Italy Pizza Company, Caliente Cocina and The Pit is Lit barbecue. 

The restaurant is filling a niche by being the only one of its kind in the metro area with very late night hours of operation, from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. each day. The business also does catering

Thomas said he employs a diverse staff and when it comes to being a “second chance” employer, he said that can mean a variety of things, whether it’s someone transitioning out of homelessness or the jail system or simply someone recovering from economic and mental health set-backs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Jonica Grober, left, and Liv Kelsey prepare food at Riptz City Eats. May 25, 2021 (KOIN).

“So we’re talking underprivileged people with a low self-esteem reinventing themselves and need a chance, you know, just like me going to other places,” Thomas said.

Liv Kelsey, a team lead in the kitchen and a Riptz City Soul Chef, said landing the job was “divine timing,” having just come on board in April after moving to the area from Arizona.  

“The universe just brought us together at the most perfect timing to make some magic happen,” Kelsey said.

Back in the mid-2000s, Thomas found himself on the street and received help from various charitable organizations around Portland, such as Transition Projects, Central City Concern, and Mercy Corps.

Jay Fetherston, Senior Vice President of Retail North at Harsch Investments, described Thomas as “somebody really giving back to the community.”

“A lot of people want to talk about themselves and as you saw, Ron talks a lot about other people and the opportunities that he wants to grow and provide to others. We need a lot more Rons in the world,” Fetherston said. 

Early on, Thomas also received a huge leg-up to initially start his business by being employed with a second chance employer himself, receiving mentorship under the restaurant owner of Horn of Africa in Northeast Portland. There he honed his skills as a chef and even operated his own small catering business out of the restaurant’s kitchen when it was closed on the weekends. 

This new venture represents the first time Thomas is operating out of a commercial kitchen he rents himself. 

Back when the pandemic first hit in April 2020, Thomas was hired by Transition Projects to cook food for their shelter clients in one of their kitchens, with food donated by Oregon Food Bank, in order to supplement the gap left by volunteer cooks no longer being able to prepare meals amid the lockdown and social distancing guidelines. 

To peruse Riptz City Eats’ menus or order food, go to its website or call 503-747-3481.

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