July 2nd, 2021

Rooted in McMinnville: Andrea Carpenter of Community Plate

A woman stands and smiles in front of a cash register behind the bar of Community Plate.  The menu and coffee set up are behind her.
Andrea Carpenter, service manager at Community Plate, likes to consider the restaurant as “McMinnville’s living room.”

Nine vertical windowpanes over the front door of this downtown McMinnville restaurant spell it out. Each pane displays a large letter: C-O-M-M-U-N-I-T-Y. For Andrea Carpenter, the windows say it all.

“Some people call this McMinnville’s living room, which I really like,” she says.

For any regular diner here, Andrea is a familiar face. Her ever-present smile welcomes all. She makes you feel at home.

Andrea takes a break from her duties as service manager for Community Plate, a popular eating and gathering place on Third Street. Ever attentive, she chats while continually glancing across the dining room, her domain for the past 10 years. All is well.

Andrea manages the front, as she calls it, while chef Jenna Hunter handles the back, the kitchen. Together they prepare and serve meals people come back for again and again. Andrea agreed to answer a few questions before taking my traditional order for the grilled cheese sandwich special (today it’s Havarti and cheddar with bacon jam).

You have a food service background but how did you start here?

Community Plate opened in 2011 and I came in that year with my son, Ari, when he was a week old. You don’t usually go to a job interview with your baby, but I met Scott Cunningham, the owner, and it just felt really warm. It was such a wonderful feeling walking into this space and meeting all the people who worked here. Scott shook my hand and asked if I would like a job. I said sure. I had no idea this was going to be my career.

How would you describe Community Plate’s place in the community?

Like I said, it’s like McMinnville’s living room. For me, it’s just been so remarkable to see customers make connections here. They become lifelong friends. It’s so casual here. People feel like they’re able to walk up to someone and say ‘You’re here a lot. My name is Andrea.’

COVID-19 restrictions are on the decline. How did Community Plate survive without customers for so many months?

COVID has been interesting, of course. We shut down from March (2020) through the beginning of July that year. That was expected though it was still shocking. We reopened and then we went to takeout food only again in the beginning of the winter. I almost felt like, oh my gosh, are we going to be able to do this again? It was just more emotional than I thought it would be. Once we were given the go-ahead to reopen, it’s been really good.

What was the community reaction to your closing?

It was very supportive. I have become Facebook friends with a great deal of people who are customers here and I would get a lot of private messages asking about Community Plate. They really cared. Two regular customers, both lawyers, wanted to start a GoFundMe (fundraiser) for Community Plate to keep it alive. They wanted to invest their own money if it came to that. That’s how much it meant to them.

You’re a McMinnville native, “born and raised” as you say. You left town and came back. What keeps you rooted in McMinnville?

This is such a wonderful place to live again. I was born here, and I have a great deal of family that lives here. Obviously, my two children are being raised here. It’s just a little slice of heaven.

With the trauma that came from COVID and all those shutdowns, truly, people here just solidify that sense of community. It’s sort of cliché with it being up there on the windows. But the way this community supported everybody in every way, it’s something you don’t just throw away.

Dan Shryock

Dan Shryock regularly writes about McMinnville and Yamhill County.