Epilogue’s move to State Street will broaden its community activism

Jonathan Jones, co-owner of Epilogue Kitchen and Cocktails passes out coffee and free meals to community members during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Monday, Jan. 18. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

During the “magic hour” window of 5 to 7 p.m. at Salem’s Epilogue Kitchen and Cocktails, co-owner Jonathan Jones routinely has to turn people away.

Even so, he said the award-winning restaurant at 130 High St. is a tight space when full.

Epilogue will soon double its capacity from 32 to about 60 with a move to 508 State St., the former home of the restaurant Table Five 08, which closed in July 2020.

The expansion will allow a business that’s also become a hub of community activism in Salem to expand the work they do.

The restaurant serves items like chicken and waffles, crab cakes and Philly cheesesteaks, with lots of greens, legumes and root vegetables. Jones and his wife, co-owner Maura Ryan, opened Epilogue for business in March 2019. In February, Jones was one of 14 semifinalists for a  James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific award.

In addition to food and cocktails, the restaurant offers a lending library of books about racial justice and by Black authors and has supported mutual aid projects, like a food and water distribution effort during wildfire season that later grew into Free Fridge Salem.

“Some of the things we’ve been wanting to do, we just haven’t had the space for,” Jones said.

Jones said they are leasing the new space and hope to make the switch by September. 

He has been a vocal advocate for Salem’s Black Lives Matter movement, and Epilogue has been graffitied multiple times with racist messages and slogans opposing social justice. He said it’s a priority for them to offer a space with “radical acceptance”, he said, where people can be themselves, make new friends and feel safe.

“There’s a lot of folks in this community who don’t have a lot of spaces like that, whether it’s because of what they look like, or who they love, or who they’re attracted to or all manner of things that bigots and racists choose to sort of attack people for,” he said. “There’s a sort of not spoken enough thing happening in this town where there’s a lot of business faces are not friendly to everybody, and so it’s really important for us to provide that for those folks, because I’m one of them, someone who has not had a lot of good experiences and a lot of spaces. And I think being able to walk through the doors into any kind of space, and know that you’re going to be met with joy and acceptance, is something we all deserve and don’t often get.”

Their crowdfunding campaign as of Friday morning had raised nearly $20,000 since going live on Juneteenth, with a goal of $50,000. They need tables, chairs, umbrellas and decorations outside, paint, bookshelves, light fixtures, TVs, fryers, flooring, kitchen equipment and some light construction, according to their Indiegogo page.

A new chicken wing pop-up, Icarus, will take its place at the High Street location. Two of their friends who started as customers, Aaron and Kelli Gilliland, will be partners in the business.

Jones and Ryan are joining with the Gillilands to form a social club which Jones said will become “the umbrella for everything that we do with Epilogue, Icarus and with anything going forward.”

“The goal of it is to be sort of a community focused, culturally conscious alternative to the Chamber,” he said.

The Anthology Secret Society will be a members-only club that offers perks such as special sandwiches and drinks. Members will also be notified first of any ticketed events such as winemaker dinners.

To join, people must be nominated by an existing member and commit to a specific number of hours of community service or monetary donation to a nonprofit, “preferably local,” Jones said.

He said there won’t be any major changes to the Epilogue menu right away, and they will continue changing a couple of menu items every few months.

“That’s pretty comfortable for us with how much time it takes to come up with something new that we’re happy with and proud of,” he said.

The restaurant will start offering Wednesday dinner service and add a couple of hours to the end of each evening for a late night happy hour.

They will bring back Chapter-A-Day, where Jonathan will do an hour-long reading Thursday nights while people eat. 

“That became a little bit of an issue in this smaller location because we would have people there for dinner who didn’t really want to be a part of that, and they didn’t have a choice because the space was so small,” he said. 

That will change when Epilogue’s library gets its own room in the new location. Books can be taken home for a $15 refundable deposit, though Jones said they often waive that. “We just want folks to read,” he said.

They will also start a reading incentive program called “That’s Lit!(erature),” where people can earn a free dinner after reading five books and writing a paragraph synopsis. Jones said they’ll do something similar but less demanding for the children’s books in the library.

At Icarus, most of the multiple TVs at any point will be playing women’s sports, which he said for decades have lacked the mainstream presence they deserve.

“We hope to sort of have Icarus be a space for equality and gender studies, and for people to learn about the historical inequality that women face,” he said.

Although they’ll still be renting the High Street location for Icarus, Jones said they’ll miss the space they poured themselves into.

“It’s definitely going to be bittersweet to move Epilogue out of here,” he said. “It is an extension of who we are, and so there’ll be some tears for sure.”

Jones said he loves that the new location is at the corner of State Street and Northeast High Street. 

“We are visible and we are loud in what we do and what we stand for,” he said.

The restaurant was last targeted in early June, when Jones told Salem Reporter someone had graffitied swastikas and anti-Black Lives Matter messaging all over the business’s windows and lampposts and sidewalk. 

Their transgender inclusion flag and every “community-minded” sticker on the restaurant and nearby light pole were also spray painted, he said.

“I think the timing of this move on the heels of another hate crime is pretty sweet justice for us, occupying a space that’s twice as big in a prime location in downtown,” he said. “The purpose of the people who try and oppress us and keep us from speaking is that they’re trying to beat us down, and we continually do the opposite. We get louder, we get bigger.”

Correction: This story was updated to reflect that Aaron and Kelli Gilliland will be partners in running Icarus, not running it themselves. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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