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Robot café, Netflix-famous desserts join effort to revitalize downtown Portland

Downtown Portland has struggled during the pandemic, but businesses new and old hope to save it.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A new business in Portland's downtown Pearl District offers robot baristas and sweet treats from a Netflix-famous dessert maker. 

Broobee Cafe on Northwest 10th off Glisan collaborated with The Hungry Hero Dessert Company in Sherwood.

Gagan Signh helped add robotic arms that make coffee behind plexiglass.

"They are professionally trained arms that are consistently going to make a perfect cup of coffee," Signh said. 

The novelty was popular during Broobee Cafe's grand opening Saturday.

"When we walked in, the robots were dancing, so that was pretty cute," laughed customer and neighbor Stephanie Ward. "We're just stoked that they're open!"

Dozens of desserts, ranging from cupcakes to cookies, line another display, all creations of Alex Wilson.

"Food makes people happy. Food is love," Wilson said.

Wilson won the Christmas episode of Netflix's dessert competition "Sugar Rush."

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Downtown Portland has struggled during the pandemic, through economic downturn, protests and a growing homelessness crisis.

However, another business that had to close a year and a half ago is finally back open.

"Just feels like renewal, a rebirth," Lisa Sedlar described.

Sedlar is founder and CEO of Green Zebra Grocery. Operations shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, forcing the layoff of 72 employees.

On Saturday, the location near Portland State University (PSU) on Southwest Broadway was finally able to reopen.

"It opened after classes started and people have been counting down the days!" said one customer, a PSU professor.

"We're all feeling incredibly joyful," Sedlar said. "Downtown and PSU back alive— that's what our city needs to recover."

Both businesses hope to draw crowds back.

"Out of COVID, this is gonna be exciting for people to come in and enjoy what we have put together," Signh said.

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