From motorcycles sales to six punk barbershops to operating a bioplastic company to the early years of food carts to bagels, Justin King has the heart of an entrepreneur.
Inspired by his East Coast Jewish Ukrainian-Polish grandparents – Ben and Esther – Justin grew up eating bagels. He went from New York to Miami and finally settled here 23 years ago.
With his first deli in 2019 in the Roseway neighborhood on Sandy Boulevard, his latest business is Ben and Esther’s Vegan Jewish Deli at 1800 N.E. Alberta St in the former Random Order Pie Bar location.
That’s right, it’s vegan, one of a very small handful in the entire country. The Ben & Esther’s team started making lox with salt-roasted carrots, swapped the whitefish for brined-and-smoked hearts of palm and began baking babka and rugelach with vegan butter.
The shift ended up being a hit, especially among Portland’s vegans. He also operates a Ben & Esther’s in San Diego, and he plans to open another one in Seattle.
“I’ve been plant-based for a long time. When I opened Ben & Esther’s, I was very business-minded, and I thought that opening a traditional Jewish deli would be good for business.
“After a year, I couldn’t reconcile that with my principles,” said the vegan.
To stay true to his beliefs, Justin transformed it to vegan, complete with his redefined versions of lox, corned beef, brisket, white fish and knishes, to name a few.
Along with bagels and a variety of schmears, Ben & Esther’s also offers Jewish pastries that include babka, challah and hamentashen.
The two local Ben & Esther’s are open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week and can be reached at 503.265.8470.
True to his core philosophies, Justin also operates a storefront on Hawthorne Boulevard that feeds anyone who walks in the door. That location will also soon house a vegan bakery.
A father of three and a Hare Krishna, Justin practices yoga and stays true to his principles.
“You don’t have to sacrifice the integrity of your food,” he said. “You can have traditional anything in a less harmful way. Principle over profit.”
After living east, south, north and west, Marsha Sandman is home at last. And she wants to hear your story. Contact her at MarshaJSandman@gmail.com.