COVID-19 has ravaged Portland’s restaurant industry with a particular fury. The last five months have seen more than 80 percent of Portland food workers laid off or furloughed, and some of the city’s most beloved bars and restaurants shuttered. Despite the devastation, this crisis has given rise to extraordinary acts of kindness and resilience in the food community. But recovery, or anything like it, remains far out of reach.
Here’s a timeline of how COVID-19 has impacted Oregon dining, from before its quick close and through the arduous, ongoing process of reopening.
The Oregon Health Authority announces the state’s first case of COVID-19. Racist myths about the virus have been hurting business at Asian-American-owned Portland restaurants for weeks before this point.
Dozens of Portland food and drink workers — including some of the city’s most prominent restaurateurs — sign a letter urging Gov. Brown to immediately shut down restaurants and to provide assistance to those affected. Many restaurants are experiencing sharp decreases in business, and several have begun pivoting to takeout.
Kate Brown announces a four week ban on dining at Oregon bars and restaurants, forcing them to close or move to take-out only. Widespread layoffs and closures begin. Business declines while crowds grow at local food pantries. Some restaurants begin providing food to laid-off restaurant workers and other community members in need.
Gov. Brown extends the state’s onsite dining ban indefinitely.
Leaked drafts of reopening plans and information from the governor’s press conferences suggest that a phased reopening — potentially with curfews, limited capacities, and safety protocols — could begin in as little as two weeks. Some restaurant owners commit to remaining closed regardless of opening plans; others call those plans too restrictive. Most predict profound changes to the industry.
31 Oregon counties — not including the three that comprise Portland — begin phase one reopening, which includes onsite dining. In phase one, restaurants must space tables six feet apart, close at 10 p.m., not allow parties greater than 10, and require staff to wear face coverings. Counties must apply to reopen. Criteria for reopening include a 14-day decline in hospital visits, an ability to test 30 people per 10,000 per week, and 15 contact tracers per 100,000 people, among other requirements.
Clackamas County, which includes suburbs like Happy Valley, begins the reopening process by entering phase one. Clackamas is the first of the Portland area’s tri-counties to reopen.
Multnomah County announces that it will apply to reopen. The possibility that Portland will reopen in two weeks inspires fear and confusion among some restaurant workers and owners. Many restaurants seek safer solutions to accommodate future diners, including walk-up windows and new outdoor dining areas. Others insist that dining in remains unsafe.
Washington County, which includes Portland suburbs like Hillsboro and Tigard, begins phase-one reopening.
Over the next four days, 25 Oregon counties enter the second phase of reopening, which allows restaurants to stay open until midnight at the time. Some counties end up moving back into phase one, including Malheur and Morrow.
Following the governor’s week-long pause on application approval, Multnomah County begins phase one reopening. It is the last Oregon county to do so. Upended service structures and new outdoor dining set-ups pay off for some bars and restaurants, and disappoint others.
As cases climb, Gov. Brown mandates mask-wearing in all indoor public spaces, which includes restaurant and bar customers. However, the governor says that police shouldn’t be issuing tickets for mandate violations, saying she was “calling upon our businesses to step up and help ensure that the public and their employees are protected.” In other words, restaurant owners and employees end up being the main enforcers of this mask mandate.
Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties pause their reopening plans as case numbers climb. All three counties remain in phase one, although Multnomah County has been placed on a “watch list” by the state for a potential phase two opening, which allows for the restricted reopening of a wider suite of businesses.
Gov. Brown changes the restaurant and bar curfew for phase two reopening, forcing restaurants and bars to stop serving customers by 10 p.m. Before this point, bars and restaurants could stay open until midnight during phase two. Many restaurant owners and bar owners have challenged this curfew time, seeing it as too strict.
Gov. Brown reinstates the stay-at-home order in Umatilla County, home of the Umatilla National Forest and Hermiston, famous for its watermelons. The county saw significant increases in new cases, which was particularly troubling for a county with a relatively small population. The governor also moved Morrow County back into phase one reopening.