Update: In the afternoon of March 16, Gov. Kate Brown announced that she would sign an executive order shutting down restaurants for all service except takeout and delivery.
A new batch of Portland’s restaurants and bars will join the list of restaurants closing to dine-in customers in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic. According to multiple Chefstable partners, several of the restaurant group’s restaurants — including James-Beard-winner Ox, Eater 38 stalwart Lardo, Icelandic hotel outpost Kex, and newly opened restaurant Bar King — will shut down their dining rooms for a minimum of four weeks, to wait out the impact of COVID-19.
Moreover, the Oregonian reports that around 90 percent of Chefstable’s 800 employees will be furloughed. Because of the unique ownership structure of the Chefstable restaurant group, whether a given restaurant will shutter entirely or offer takeout and delivery services is up to the individual chef-partner; Chefstable owner Kurt Huffman has been speaking directly with partners to individually negotiate shutdown plans, according to the Oregonian. Some venues, like Ox and Bar King, are evaluating the possibility of curbside pickup and delivery. Others, like the Kex hotel’s restaurant Dóttir, will close altogether for the four-week period. Many of Chefstable’s other partners haven’t officially announced their plans moving forward.
While helping employees apply for unemployment, Chefstable is considering other ways to support employees, like opening a “pantry” for to use up the restaurants’ perishables and provide staffers with something to eat.
Huffman told the Oregonian that he was waiting to see if Gov. Kate Brown would order restaurants and bars to close; according to the restaurant group, a government mandate would be the company’s best chance at a loss of income insurance claim. “I took my stepson for his 15th birthday at Bar King, and it was completely full,” Huffman told Oregonian reporter Michael Russell. “At 9:30, I looked inside at Loyal Legion next door, and it was just packed. And I just had this moment of thinking, ‘We’re not doing the right thing. We need to shut these things down.’” .
Bar King owners Shaun and Jamie King has spent the last year working to open Bar King, starting with their pop-up at Mikkeller. Despite the restaurant’s full dining rooms, Shaun and Jamie King say the thought of the potential danger to the patrons and staff kept him from celebrating the restaurant’s success. They decided to close, only open for less than a week. The couple sobbed on the phone earlier today, grieving the temporary shutter of their restaurant. “We haven’t stopped crying since 10 a.m.,” Jamie King said.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” chef Shaun King says. “We all live paycheck to paycheck. The restaurant industry is so hurt. We have nothing else to fall back on.” Still, he thinks the choice was the right one: “We can’t just sit back and say ‘Oh, nothing is going to affect us.’ We have to be proactive. We have to make sure our staff is supported.”
Rick Gencarelli, the owner of popular fast-casual chains Lardo and Grassa, will remain open for delivery and takeout, keeping on about 25 employees. “I’m proud of the Portland food community. It’s awesome we’re ahead of it,” he says. “It’s just been a hard decision. We feed people, it’s what we do — that’s why people are still coming out.”
Dóttir, the pseudo-Icelandic restaurant within the Kex hotel, closed after brunch service at noon Sunday; the entire hotel will close after the last guest checks out on Thursday. Kex is the first US location of an Icelandic boutique hostel-style hotel, where guests can either rent whole rooms or beds in bunk-style rooms. “I don’t feel in good conscience that people should be sharing a room together right now,” says Sean O’Conner, the general manager and partner of Portland’s Kex hotel. “It doesn’t feel like the responsible thing for us to do.”
O’Connor says he started to consider the potential closure after Seattle’s Tom Douglas closed all his restaurants in Seattle. “In the arc of this epidemic, it feels like Seattle is three-ish weeks ahead of us,” he says. “When we saw that happen, we felt, as a business, we really needed to address this.” The team considered other options, but because of the whole business’s model, a closure made the most sense.
“Every restaurant owner in town is at a moral quandary right now of how to support their employees and how to protect the community at large. In some ways, those things are at odds with each other,” O’Connor says. “My hope in the days to come, we hope that other restaurant and hotel owners make the same decisions we do... Tourism is one of the biggest economies in Portland, and a huge driver of that is large events and food and beverage. The sooner that our local politicians recognize that and offer us the support we need right now, the sooner we can preserve what makes Portland so special.”
Eater Portland has reached out to several Chefstable partners for comment; this story will be updated accordingly.