clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Get to Know the Man Behind Portland's Oldest Restaurant

School is in, with the author of "Portland: A Food Biography."

Courtesy of Huber's Restaurant

Amid the rapid-fire restaurant openings and steady stream of transplants, it's easy to loose the thread of Portland's culinary history. So as we continue our Classics Week celebration of the city's stalwarts, we decided it's time for a few history lessons. We asked local writer Heather Arndt Anderson, author of the recently published culinary history book ""Portland: A Food Biography," to school us on the some of the people and places of the past. First up: Jim Louie, the force behind Portland's oldest restaurant.

Portland's oldest restaurant, Huber's, was headed by (and is still operated by the descendants of) one of its earliest cooks: Jim Louie. About a decade after opening in 1879, Frank Huber poache Louie, a 21-year-old Chinese immigrant, from the Peerless Saloon.

"A young fellow, he cook 10,000 turkey, he know a little bit," Louie once said. "Cook 50,000 turkey, he know something about it."

Truly, Jim Louie knew something about turkey. His moist turkey sandwiches and creamy coleslaw soon gained a reputation, and Louie became a local legend by serving turkey sandwiches and clams on the half shell during the infamous flood of 1894, purportedly selling them from a rowboat floating in the middle of the saloon.

Frank Huber died suddenly in 1911,*  only a year after moving into the beautiful Railway Exchange Building that houses the restaurant today, and leaving the management of his restaurant to Louie.  Louie was beloved by Portlanders, even while wearing his traditional jade bracelet and long braid during the height of anti-Chinese sentiment. He cut off his queue in 1912, a little after the death of Frank Huber and the fall of the Qing Dynasty ("Four hundred million Chinamen can't be wrong," he said), but he continued wearing his lucky bracelet.

On September 5, 1946, 76-year-old Louie felt a bit off after finishing his shift. His cooks helped him into a booth to rest. After lying down for a few moments, he quietly died.

*The Huber's website says that Frank Huber died in 1912, but the announcement of his death and funeral appear in The Oregonian on May 1 and May 2, 1911, respectively.

Huber's Cafe

411 Southwest 3rd Avenue, , OR 97204 (503) 228-5686 Visit Website