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Portland Is, Once Again, Losing Smallwares

Johanna Ware’s “inauthentic Asian” restaurant’s last day will be September 28

The brightly lit bar at Smallwares
Dina Avila/Official

Johanna Ware’s bright and colorful “inauthentic Asian” restaurant is, once again, closing. Oregon Live first reported the sad news that Smallwares would be shuttering for good at the end of the month, leaving the space it moved into in May of 2018. With the closing of her micro-restaurant Wares earlier this summer at The Zipper, there will soon be no place in town to find her signature, playful cuisine with dishes like fried kale and candied bacon with fish sauce or her lamb and pork dumplings.

Opened originally in 2012 on Fremont in the Beaumont neighborhood, Smallwares quickly picked up acclaim and popularity, but the expansive space and double dining rooms never served it well and it ended up closing in 2016. After opening her compact counter-service restaurant Wares in 2017, Ware surprised everyone with an announcement the following year that Smallwares would reopen in the building previously home to Mexican restaurant Chalino. Along with dinner and happy hour came a ssam tasting menu experience and, eventually, a weekend brunch.

“I was hesitant about doing it again,” said Ware about her decision to reopen, “But I had a business partner this time. But he left and I ended up doing everything, like I did the first time. And we’re slow — everyone loves the food, I know I’m a good chef, but it’s just so hard because we’re often a third of the way full. The overhead is high, and I’m just tired.”

Smallwares’ last day will be September 28, but this time Ware wants to go out with a bang, saying that she and her sous chef are going to bust out some of their favorite dishes, while getting rid of brunch and possibly Sunday service entirely. “We’ll just have fun with the menu, pull out all the fun stuff we love, and slim the menu a bit.”

Ware is planning to sell the space, hopefully to another restaurant: “The space is awesome, and there‘s a lot of potential here,” she says. “It’s a good spot.” As for her own future, she’s definitely not done cooking, and fans of her food can remain optimistic that they’ll find it again, just maybe not right away. “I want to take some time off and figure out what works for me. And maybe do some pop-ups.”