A Conversation with Desiree Noisette, Founder of Mermosa PDX — February 2024

Tell us a little bit about Mermosa.

Mermosa is inspired by my family’s heritage. We, like most people, have family members from all around the world historically. We are French, Haitian, we are Black and we are also from South Carolina. Mermosa is a restaurant that pays homage to our family heritage as a fusion We specialize in bringing people together from all walks of life and one of the ways we do that is through our food and our “Don’t Take Things Too Seriously” type of environment. 

What brought you to opening up a restaurant in NW Portland? 

I’m a winemaker and serial entrepreneur. Back in 2017, I had a business in Florida that was a swimwear store. The whole focus was to make women feel beautiful in their own skin. We would pop bottles and make it fun. I decided we needed to have another ingredient to make it even more fun. That ingredient was wine. I was trying to create the perfect ready-to-drink mimosa and at the time there was nothing really like that on the market. I was looking for something more elevated that used premium wines, as opposed to something that used what I call well wines. I began to call people at wineries in California and Washington State. I had no experience in wine, other than being a wine drinker. The people in California laughed at me and I never heard back from Washington State. 

But when I called Oregon, I was received with open arms. I was invited out to learn how to get involved in the business and make this wine. In 2018, I released my first wines and became Florida’s first Black winemaker. In 2020 and 2021, the wines went into distribution and began to take off on the east coast. When travel became more challenging, my family and I felt like we really needed to focus on the core elements of what we loved about the business and its brand and concept. 

We found Portland to be the perfect spot for us. Between the people, we can have these authentic conversations here that we can’t have in other places necessarily. We can share history in a way that is truly embraced. We also feel like this is a really great place to raise kids and we love the outdoors. So we came and spent a lot of time here, learning about the communities. When this place on 23rd became available, we felt like all the stars aligned. The location has a perfect mix of neighborhood vibes mixed with some tourism. Being in Portland is a dream for us so we relocated from Florida.

Have you faced any challenges since opening your restaurant?

Of course, there’s always challenges as business owners. We always wish there was more business or more of everything. But I’m an entrepreneur and none of the challenges we’ve faced have been new. In fact, I feel like we’ve had more opportunities here than we would have in other places. Because the community is so supportive. Portland is a place where people are authentic. They’re not just gonna say they’re going to show up and not show up. They’ll let you know if they’re not gonna show up! We’ve been very overwhelmed with the amount of community support here, especially as one of the only Blackowned businesses on NW 23rd. It’s been a really refreshing welcome. We love it.

What does community mean to the folks at Mermosa?

That’s a good question. Community means authentically connecting with people of all walks of life. Showing up for each other, listening, and caring. 

Do you have any hopes of expanding? 

Well, we haven’t even been here a year yet! One of the reasons why we selected this space, as opposed to other spaces, for us, is that it’s a cultural hub. From live music to exhibitions to wine festivals and some catering, that’s enough for us now. We are just gonna continue being active participants in the community and organizations feel like they can come and bring their concept to life, in addition to our regular programming for now. Maybe some popups but I think we are pretty good in terms of physical expansion. Our wines are going into New Seasons next month. We are also in some other shops around here. We’ve already done the 20 state distribution and we choose our family and community.

Is there anything you’d like to say about Black History Month or how our neighbors can best support local Black businesses?

We celebrate Black History Month every day. I appreciate that it’s a month and we certainly appreciate all the programming around it. I love participating in Black History Month events. Whenever you come into our space, the Black history is everywhere. From the family pictures and history on our walls to the food. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re. When you walk in our doors, we have an extremely diverse patronage and we work really hard to make sure that everybody is welcome, and we protect that at all costs. We want to make sure that conversations about Black history, which is American history, are reflected authentically here. For example, all of the wines that I curate at our space are all BIPOC or women-made. We really try to focus on Black-owned spirits so we can tell these stories. Thursday night is a really great night to come in. We feature new wines and spirits on the regular. We like to tell those stories because at the end of the day, the wine and spirits industry are in agriculture and agriculture is about family and raising crops and being connected to the Earth. There’s a lot of history that goes along with that, especially when you’re talking about Black folks in America and around the world. That’s a long way of saying you can’t get away from Black History when you’re here. It just is and we can’t turn it off. We celebrate it everyday. 

We welcome everybody to come by. If you have community events that you’ve been trying to dream up, come on in, we love doing events! 

Thank you to Desiree from Mermosa for sharing your story with Friendly House and our community! Mermosa is located at 1422 NW 23rd Ave and more information can be found at Mermosapdx.com.