The news last fall stunned the city: Alan Davis was closing the always-bustling Produce Row café after a 40-year run. It didn't make sense. Despite its under-the-radar location under the network of overpasses in the Central Industrial Eastside, the place was doing great, boosted by its longtime loyal following, its sunny patio, and its great beer program. But Davis' reasons were personal, not financial, which is why he simply shut the doors for an "extended hiatus" while he looked for new owners who could pick up the torch he could no longer carry. Looks like that time has finally come.
Last week, Davis sold Produce Row to Josh Johnston and James Hall, two restaurateurs with a proven track record for revitalizing and preserving Portland institutions, first with Paddy's Bar and Grill downtown, and most recently the Cadillac Café on NE Broadway. The duo also own three popular watering holes that represent their own original concepts: North 45 Pub on NW 21st, Circa 33 on SE Belmont, and The Station on NE Alberta. Produce Row, it seems, is in good hands.
"Alan told me he cares a lot about the Row," says Johnston. "And he said if it wasn't us, he wasn't going to sell the Row to anyone. He was going to give up and lease out the space. So he's really excited."
Johnston says he's committed to bringing the best of Produce Row back, and isn't interested in turning it into something it never was. "It's one of these Portland institutions that has such a great following and loyalty," he says. "I really want to revive it. We want to gather as much information as we can and bring back the stuff everybody wants. The beer program has always been legendary, so we want to bring back a really strong beer program. When he remodeled Alan brought in a really strong whiskey program, and we're excited about that. As for the food, we want to figure out what was working really well, take feedback and suggestions, and give people their Produce Row back."
The restaurant is almost turn-key, but Johnston says they're planning one big project before the doors open. "We're moving the hood. One of the big downfalls was the way the kitchen is configured, they couldn't keep up with orders when things got busy. We're going to move the hood, which is a three- to four-week project." It'll also take a little time to clean up, take inventory, and hire and train staff. Johnston says they're looking at opening the doors some time in May.
"The place is beautiful and already set up, and it's got the only really good patio in the area," he says. "I'm really excited to carry the torch. I want to bring it back and knock it out of the park."