clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
A picture of the blue interiors of Yonder, with wooden stools lining up at a bar.
The dining room at Yonder
Dina Avila / EPDX

Filed under:

Portland Chefs and Restaurant Owners Share When They Hope to Reopen for Dine-In Service

Some restaurant owners are eager to reopen, even at limited capacity; others are waiting until the end of the summer, if not longer

Brooke Jackson-Glidden is the editor of Eater Portland.

As states like Georgia and Texas begin reopening dining rooms and Oregon starts to slowly reopen some state parks, the potential restaurant reopening process looms large over Portland. News outlets have begun reporting on drafts of potential restaurant reopening guidelines, discussing mandated closing times, capacity restrictions, and safety protocols. Meanwhile, restaurateurs have begun publicly announcing commitments to stay closed, regardless of the state’s reopening plans, or have publicly denounced the draft guidelines as too restrictive.

Eater Portland reached out to 15 chefs and business owners in the Portland area to hear their perspective on the premise of reopening. Some chefs weren’t even considering the prospect of reopening right now; others have been thinking about it nonstop. Some feel ready for limited capacity dine-in; others are waiting for a vaccine. Below, see how and when restaurant owners are hoping to reopen, from the luncheonette owners to the restaurant moguls. These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

The wooden chairs of this Pearl District Peruvian restaurant sit on the tables, closed to customers for weeks. On the windows, two white signs advertise takeout and delivery orders.
Andina, with signs in its windows noting the closure of the dining room and takeout availability
Molly J. Smith / EPDX

When do you hope you’ll be able to reopen for dine-in service?

“I am advocating for holding out at least until August 1st.” -Kurt Huffman, Chefstable

“As soon as it is safe to do so.” -Jen Quist and Doug Adams, Holler Hospitality

“At this point, I really don’t feel too comfortable reopening for dine-in service until we figure out a no-contact system where customers can order from their phones online, and have a layout and fixed-number table system so that we know which table to deliver to.” -Jaime Soltero Jr., Tamale Boy

“We honestly have no idea when reopening our dining room will be possible. I imagine I’m in the same boat as many restaurateurs — knowing that 50 percent capacity isn’t necessarily enough for us to survive. We’re honestly taking it day by day as much as possible and doing our best to stay limber and quick on our feet so we can make changes as necessary throughout this process. We may have a completely different business model, menu, etc by the time this is over — I think a lot of restaurants are likely in the same place.” -Maya Lovelace, Yonder & Mae

“We are hopeful that Governor Brown will allow restaurants to reopen by June 1st.” -Garrett Benedict, G-Love

“Even if the restrictions are lifted, it’s just not safe still. It’s going to be really hard to have people in the restaurant.” -Peter Cho, Han Oak

“I know that there are guidelines that are coming out now, but I am going to use my better judgement and assess the situation as it all progresses. I am hoping before summer ends.” -Carlo Lamagna, Magna

“That question is a moving target. I hope to see dine-in service again, yet my head is incredibly focused on all of the details to reopen safely for take-out. I would love to see our cities establish closures of small/short streets, like Oak between 9th and 10th, plus the parking lots for the months of July and August to allow our community to dine-out. Imagine how lovely it would be to have live street music, films showing on sides of buildings, movable planters to help divide areas. Thinking out of the box is critical now more than ever. I am still fearful of gatherings and pushing too soon. August to October might be more realistic, yet with only three months — it’s really not enough, but it would help.” -Kristen D. Murray, Maurice

“We are hoping to reopen as soon as possible for dine-in service, even with a limited capacity.” -Kyo Koo, Danwei Canting

“When it is safe to do so for both employees and customers.” -Andy Ricker, Pok Pok

“Seems like June 1st is a date that I keep hearing about.” -Ricky Gomez, Palomar

“As soon as the safety of our staff and guests can be more certain.” -Aaron Barnett, St. Jack

“Whenever we get the go-ahead, essentially. We never closed down, we just transitioned to only takeaway and delivery, and that’s built into our model already.” -Deepak Kaul, Bhuna

The doors of Pine Street Market, housing several of Portland’s popular dining spots, sporting a white, handwritten sign that reads “closed” on Saturday, April 4. Next to the white sign, Pollo Bravo’s white sign advertises its delivery and pickup options
A closed sign appears in front of Pine Street Market
Molly J. Smith/EPDX

If it were announced that restaurants are able to open fully and it was totally safe, how long do you think you’d need to reopen?

“Two weeks.” -Kurt Huffman, Chefstable

“What does totally safe mean? I don’t believe anyone can promise that. I do believe this virus will hurt us is waves, I don’t believe there will be an absolute “safe”. There will be more lives lost. If it was truly ‘safe,’ a good few weeks. Closing down a restaurant overnight with no real notice, no matter the size, is a big undertaking. There are so many details to take into account. Opening up is even more complicated, as it has been eight weeks with no revenue to reopen yet I’m still on the hook for many fixed costs. It’s starting over with a new model, new critical safety measures, new packaging to purchase, to match take-out offerings just as we had moved away from so many disposable containers. The biggest hurdle is to try to reopen safely, to stay open... almost do it quietly, methodically and lightly to better try to weather the storms ahead.” -Kristen D. Murray, Maurice

“If that were the case, that it was completely safe, immediately, but until we have a vaccine, I can’t imagine it.” -Jaime Soltero Jr., Tamale Boy

“If we are talking about a hypothetical where coronavirus magically disappears we would be able to reopen within about a week. If we are talking about reopening with all of the new safety guidelines and restrictions it will take us at least two weeks to organize and get everything in place to be able to reopen properly. We are very hopeful that Governor Brown will give us a proper amount of advance notice so that we can be ready.” -Garrett Benedict, G-Love

“Since we have been open from day one of this, we have carefully been adding more and more offerings each week in order to bring people on — staggered but speedy — once it is safe to do so. We still don’t have an idea of what a reopen would look like from where we are with the state, so our plan is to lay everything out and open in stages.” -Jen Quist and Doug Adams, Holler Hospitality

“I’d guess a week or so.” -Aaron Barnett, St. Jack

“Probably a week to get back up and running — two days to celebrate, four days to prep, one day to rest.” -Carlo Lamagna, Magna

“If that were announced, we would probably need two to three days to reset everything in the dining room. We have been able to remain open continuously through the lock-down with take-out and delivery, but the entire format of how the restaurant is set-up has changed.” -Kyo Koo, Danwei Canting

“A month at least.” -Andy Ricker, Pok Pok

“Probably a week or two. Most of our staff are waiting in the wings — everyone wants to get back to work. We’re currently operating on a limited to-go basis, so we at least have some product moving through the kitchen and some systems still in place. An important thing to mention, though, is that we likely won’t be the same restaurant we were before. This circumstance has forced us to reevaluate our business, and we’ll likely make changes to simplify our menu, streamline our offerings, and take even better care of our staff and our customers.” -Maya Lovelace, Yonder & Mae

“One week.” -Ricky Gomez, Palomar

“We’d be ready to go within a couple of days. Just mopping, sweeping, restocking alcohol, and we’re back in the game.” -Deepak Kaul, Bhuna

“We need a week to get some of the things going. It’s kind of funny to think about, ‘What do I need to do?’ Kimchi needs at least a week.” -Peter Cho, Han Oak

“I can reopen in a week; I don’t have that big of a staff.” -Fatou Ouattara, Akadi

“The real, true answer is I don’t know. Smaller restaurants like Paley’s Place would probably take days to open, clean, reset. We close for an annual closing every year right around January; it takes a couple of days. We would have to reconfigure the menus, tweak the concept, hours of operation, all of that would still have to factor in. Downtown restaurants will have to take longer. We just opened Crown to-go, we literally spent a whole week trying to sanitize and clean the whole space for takeout, you know? If all of a sudden we got an all-clear sign, jeez.” -Vitaly Paley, Paley Hospitality

Carlo Lamagna’s adobo uses his father’s recipe
Carlo Lamagna prepares a plate of adobo, before restaurants closed for dine-in service
Celeste Noche / EPDX

If the State of Oregon agreed to open restaurants for dine-in service tomorrow, would you fully reopen your restaurant as soon as possible?

“Absolutely not. We won’t reopen until our staff is comfortable enough to interact with guests, guests are comfortable enough to be in the same room as strangers, and we trust that the pandemic is over. Opening halfway feels like a game of chicken that we can’t win, and I can’t bear the thought of putting our employees OR guests at risk for the sake of opening as fast as possible.” -Maya Lovelace, Yonder & Mae

“No, not a chance.” -Jaime Soltero Jr., Tamale Boy

“100 percent. We have stayed open for takeout and delivery in the hopes that this will make our transition back to dine-in services smoother. However, nobody knows how the dining public is going to react. We are not anticipating a crush of demand upon reopening.” -Garrett Benedict, G-Love

“I don’t think so. Just because, for all the obvious reasons, there are too many unknown factors. Financially, it doesn’t make sense because no one is going to go out to eat. You’re going to staff up for what, five people to walk into your restaurant? Why bother?” -Deepak Kaul, Bhuna

“The simple answer is no, but it is obviously more complicated than that. We need to consider plans for all three of our places — Bullard, Abigail Hall, Good Coffee at Woodlark, as well as hotel guests — so a ‘full reopen’ looks different for each. Our primary focus is not bringing our staff in too soon to where it would impact their health, or the health of our business. We are being very careful and methodical in our approach as there are obviously a lot of moving parts under one roof and a lot of responsibility safety-wise.” -Jen Quist & Doug Adams, Bullard & Abigail Hall

“No. It’s simply not safe, and I am not comfortable exposing myself, my staff, or my community to the hazards of economy before our health. I’m into dine-out al fresco service once it is safe to do so. Dine-in, in my mind, is now reserved for special parties on a very limited scale of six to 10 people, yet not for a good while. Possibly by the holidays or the new year.” -Kristen D. Murray, Maurice

“No. The last thing we need is us getting ahead of ourselves, and if another spike happens forcing closures again, we will be back to square one, if not worse.” -Carlo Lamagna, Magna

“Yes, after a week of getting ready and putting in place a safety system that works for both customers and workers.” -Fatou Ouattara, Akadi

“Probably not. I think it would be prudent of us to really understand the health of the employees and the people who are coming in through the door, making them feel safe, making them trust us again. I wasn’t the first person to say this, but nobody is going to remember us for opening up first, they’ll remember us for opening up best. Hospitality as we know it will not exist for a very long time. Are customers ready to walk through the door with a masked server, gloves, or even gowns? What’s the experience that they will take away with them or embrace? I just don’t know. Takeaway food is here to stay for a long time, in my opinion.” -Vitaly Paley, Paley Hospitality

How Coronavirus Is Impacting the Portland Restaurant World [EPDX]

Chelo Chef Luna Contreras’s Favorite Portland Restaurants

Get the Picnic Gear Because the World’s Largest Charcuterie Board Is About to Hit Portland

Coming Attractions

The Latest Updates on the Restaurant-Packed Portland Ritz-Carlton Building