Where We Live: Reo Varnado and Reo’s Ribs

Reo's Ribs in in NE Portland was damaged by a fire

Reo Varnado outside his restaurant Reo's Ribs in Portland. (Courtesy of Reo Varnado)
Reo Varnado outside his restaurant Reo's Ribs in Portland. (Courtesy of Reo Varnado)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Two weeks ago a massive fire destroyed Reo’s Ribs, a popular soul food restaurant in Northeast Portland’s Hollywood District.

The owner, Reo Varnado, is well known in Portland but he’s also building a national reputation for food and entertainment and his story is an important part of where we live.

Reo Varnado (center) with Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart. (Courtesy of Reo Varnado)
Reo Varnado (center)
with Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart.
(Courtesy of Reo Varnado)

“Uncle Reo” has appeared as a guest on the cooking show hosted by his nephew Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart. He told Stewart his secret ingredient: “When you got Jesus in there, you don’t need nothin’ else.”

Reo is around town, singing at nightclubs or with his gospel group, The Beyonds. He’s a local and now national celebrity, and even signed up for a couple small movie roles in Los Angeles.

“God, he’s just blessing me, man,” Reo said. “He’s blessing me to do more things than I’ve ever done.”

Reo was in Los Angeles taping Martha Stewart segments when the fire destroyed his restaurant.

“It eats me every day man,” he said. ” Sometimes I find myself alone by myself just crying and praying to God, ask myself why.”

He said he’s hurt, but he knows how to forgive and people who love him have been supportive.

Reo Varnado singing with his gospel group in Portland. (Courtesy of Reo Varnado)
Reo Varnado singing with his gospel group in Portland. (Courtesy of Reo Varnado)

“They’re bringing me flowers every day,” he said.

Fire investigators said the blaze was accidental, but Reo doesn’t believe that. He said he received specific threats and some involved race. He said race was a factor when he left his previous Southwest Portland location amid complaints of smoke from his BBQ smokers.

“It makes me think about my past when I was growing up in Mississippi,” Reo said. “Because I’ve seen it happen so many times back there. It gives me flashbacks.”

Reo is determined to not let it get him down. A friend and family connections brought him to Portland more than 20 years ago and this is his home.

“It’s something about this town I love,” Reo said. “I love it man. I love the music.”

Reo had insurance and plans to rebuild his restaurant.

A fire damaged Reo’s Ribs early Monday morning, May 8 2017. (KOIN)