Jon Finley's first job as a kid was working in the Beaver Cafe, a blue-collar Slabtown restaurant — his father's restaurant, in fact — where the lifelong Portlander cooked and bartended for more than a decade. After earning his college degree, he left the industry to take a job in sales, and eventually in sales management, with a company that created packaging for computer software — a job that technology has all but eliminated.
But near the end of his sales career, Finley was ready for a change, and he decided to get back into the restaurant game, opening Sckavone's on the corner of SE Division Street at 41st Avenue in 2006.
It was more than a career change. It was a homecoming. The old building he operates out of dates back to his grandfather, Nick Sckavone, who, starting in 1930, ran a soda fountain and lunch counter out his pharmacy, Eveready Drugstore, in the same exact space.
When he was a kid, he'd visit Sckavone at work, and the old man would make him ice cream floats and talk baseball. So, as a tribute to his grandfather, he gave the lunch counter idea new life, and now Portland's Richmond residents come there for what Finley calls "really good food served by nice people in a nice space."
In fact, Finley says, the whole restaurant itself is a sort-of throwback to the speed and the way of life of the neighborhood circa the mid-20th-century. "We're pretty easy here," he says. "There's pretty much no attitude."
Locals consider it a neighborhood anchor (Finley guesses that a majority of his regulars live within a mile-and-a-half radius), and they come in for simple classics like mac and cheese, fish and chips, and, of course, burgers, shakes and floats. "It's the kind of place where you'll have a table full of 26-year-olds sitting next to a 75-year-old couple," Finley says. "Everybody knows each other. In fact, with some of our younger customers, we'll see them maybe once or twice a month, but when their parents are visiting them from Wisconsin, this is the place they take them."
So in a city that's bursting at the seams with new places to eat and dishes reflecting the latest trends, Finley has created a joint with staying power by going back to his — and the city's — roots.
"We're not very pretentious here," he says. "We just make good food out of simple ingredients."