After moving to Portland in 2005 for University, Katie Prinsen decided to stay in the City of Roses and set about making a life for herself. A decade later Katie took the plunge and bought her first condo in North Portland, and set about making her coffee dreams a reality.
Portland was doing its own growing up around the same time, and by this time finding retail space was a challenge. Within a month of buying her first home, Katie was able to lock down a sublet in an upholstery shop in Portland’s Kenton neighborhood, and open Prince Coffee.
An historically blue-collar neighborhood, Kenton has amazing vibes–a diverse population, an eclectic and creative food scene, and of course the Paul Bunyan statue. When you’re on Kenton’s main drive it feels like you’ve stumbled onto the Main Street of a tiny town. There’s a comforting sense–one that tends to get lost in other parts of the city–that people here know each other.
Katie quickly became a fixture, an adopted Kenton local. There’s a playful smirk hiding somewhere in her eyes as she talks about first opening Prince. ‘I didn’t think about hiring any employees when I opened Prince, so I worked open to close for the first three months.’
Listening to Katie talk about this time in her life, just tracking the facts, it seems obvious that the stress must have been overwhelming at times, but the way she talks about it–and about other difficult moments in the life cycle of owning a cafe–you get the sense that she’s been calm and ready for whatever comes her way since the moment she appeared in this world. There’s no bravado, no hard edges, but there’s a sense of resolve, a strength of purpose. Trouble coming at Katie Prinsen feels like a bicycle trying to push a train off its tracks. Not gonna happen.
There’s a warmth in her reminiscences, too. ‘[Kenton] was one of those situations that I feel like you can never recreate…I didn’t have much money, but I really poured my heart into it. It felt very magical and unique.’
Katie eventually had to say goodbye to the Kenton space (Prince is now crushing it in the Beaumont neighborhood just a few miles East), and she’s learned some tough lessons along the way about the perils of subleasing and the unique difficulties of being an owner of a place that traffics in not just coffee, but community.
This substrate of community, one that magnetizes Katie and so many people like her in the coffee industry, was rendered difficult, if not impossible, to maintain over the last couple of years as pandemic life became its own sort of abnormal-normal. But even in this, Katie manifests a sense of poise, a balance in an era of extremes.
In navigating what–even without COVID–has been described as a ‘chronically anxious age’ as a small business owner, Katie evinces a quality that can only be described as motherly, in the best possible sense of that word. She’s firm but not brittle, caring but not coddling. There’s this sort of warm stalwartness that lets you know she’s not afraid, but it’s ok if you are.
And then there’s Hendrik. In the midst of all the upheaval that the pandemic has brought, Katie experienced becoming a mom for the first time. She laughs about how wild her birth story is. Her labor was so fast, she showed up to the ER and shouted, ‘My name is Katie Prinsen, I don’t have COVID and I’m having a baby right now!’ All told, she clocked in a hospital stay of less than 40 minutes before Hendrik was taking in air and pushing his limbs out into the world.
As she describes becoming a parent, and the clarity of purpose that brings, it’s clear that Hendrik’s arrival has fortified her resolve to make Prince, and the life she’s built around Prince, the best it can possibly be. But even here, it’s not some unhinged ambition, it’s rooted in a pride of work well done, in a deep sense of living the good life and creating goodness for this small person whose entire world is you.
With motherhood, Katie’s energy to build community and create something beautiful in this world has been dialed up to eleven. ‘Having Hendrik has made me want to do everything to the best of my ability.’ She’s already dreaming about collaborating with Hendrik as he gets older, but she’s also running her own goals and methods through a new grid of what really matters. Everything is getting reassessed from when (or if) to open a second location, all the way down to making small adjustments to recipes to make sure that Prince keeps pushing against the ceiling of what a truly great neighborhood cafe can be.
What’s next for Katie Prinsen? Well, for starters she and her fiance, Jordan, are taking Hendrik on his first European tour. From there she’s planning on doing a lot of camping (in her amazing 1990 Isuzu Trooper). In the meantime, she’s adjusting to coffee changes that come with parenthood. ‘Pre-Hendrik, I never drank coffee at home, ever ever. I’d always go to Prince, every single day. But now we brew coffee at home every morning. We were just brewing on the Kalita, but now that we have the Ratio we’ve been brewing with that and I *love* it. My home brewing game definitely improved when Hendrik came along, but the Ratio’s just made it so nice.' (matte black Ratio Six for the win). From there, Katie Prinsen is soaking up all the fun she can with Hendrik, and perfecting Prince one cappuccino at a time.