Portland Monthly 921 SW Washington Street, Suite 750 Portland, OR 97205 Phone: 503-222-5144 • Fax: 503-227-8777
By Katherine Chew Hamilton June 2, 2022
Brittany Snipes and Ryan Knowles, the owners of Realm Refillery.
Are you tired of buying 50-pound bags of rice or shrink-wrapped packages of five zucchini? Enter the Realm Refillery , which claims to be Portland’s first package-free grocery store, opened May 20 at 2310 NE Broadway.
“We want to set ourselves aside by always offering local products and local agriculture and doing everything on as small a scale as possible. That way, we can support our community and create a more circular economy,” says Ryan Knowles, co-owner with wife Brittany Snipes.
The store offers an impressive array of bulk bins. Pantry staples include grains, beans, three kinds of lentils, pasta, flours, coffee, tea, and vegan proteins including soy curls, vital wheat gluten, and textured vegetable protein. Bulk snacks range from rice cracker mixes to chewy coconut squares to granola and dried mango. Powdered goods like spices and supplements are sorted alphabetically, starting with agar agar and amchur. On tap, fill jars with maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, coconut aminos, or vegan worcestershire sauce. Ladle out as much peanut butter, tahini, or oat milk base as you’d like. Grab loaves from local bakeries Tabor Bread or Carina’s Gluten-Free Bread, and scoop up exactly as much Choi’s Kimchi, Sizzle Pie ranch, Ota Tofu, or slices of vegan ham from the cart-turned-commissary Dinger’s Deli as you might need.
Pantry staples like olive oil and coconut aminos are available on tap.
The locally-grown produce section is small but well-curated with the likes of baby turnips from Philomath, shiitake mushrooms from Lebanon, and green kale from Albany. It’s a fun store to browse, too. We were surprised to find chewable toothpaste tablets, eye serum by the pump-full, and cleaning products, plus goods like reusable menstrual pads, reusable coffee filters, and books about sustainability and composting. Good news for summer adventurers: there’s backpacking food in the bulk bin from Sky Above Trail Grub , a WOC-owned business that sources its ingredients from local BIPOC-owned farms.
Bags and scales for packaging and weighing bulk goods
Knowles and Snipes greet customers who walk through the door and help walk them through the process. While not totally package-free, the few items that are packaged come in compostable or reusable packaging. Customers scoop dry goods into free compostable paper bags, or pay a $2 deposit for a glass jar that gets returned to the store, sanitized, and reused. (Customers currently aren’t allowed to bring in their own food storage containers under Oregon law, though Knowles and Snipes are hoping to help change that.) Label your picks with the PLU code, weigh them on the scale, bring them to the front, and you’re good to go. Instead of disposable shopping bags, customers can bring their own bags, purchase tote bags (locally made bags with jar compartments are in the works), or use a free cardboard box that was originally used to ship products to the store. And while some products are sent to the store in plastic containers—powdered laundry detergent, for instance—The Realm Refillery washes them and sends them back to the vendor so they can be reused.
The Realm Refillery joins other zero-waste and/or package-free vendors in Portland: Mama Hapa, which sells sustainably packaged and reusable home goods and body care products, and Waste Not Market, a farmers market stand selling dried fruit, grains, vegan proteins, granola, beans, and legumes.
One thing that surprised me: I didn’t notice until about twenty minutes through my browsing that everything in the store happens to be vegan. The store doesn’t label itself as such, because they want to be seen as accessible to as broad a range of customers are possible. Even as an omnivore who loves to trawl grocery store shelves, I found plenty of new-to-me locally made products, so the plant-based selections didn’t feel limiting. The nice part? You can scoop out just a couple pieces if you’d like to try something new, avoiding wasting money and food if something isn’t to your taste—or come back to purchase something in bulk if you end up loving it.
01/14/2022 By Karen Brooks and Katherine Chew Hamilton