Saucebox, the downtown Portland restaurant owned by prominent restaurateur Bruce Carey, has closed permanently, after a lengthy temporary closure related to the coronavirus pandemic. The restaurant is the second of Carey’s to close permanently this year, a year marked not only by the difficulties of the pandemic, but also a harassment lawsuit filed against the restaurant.
“After 25 years of consistently satisfying the thirst and the appetite of thousands of loyal devotees, Saucebox is giving in to the effects of the pandemic and will not reopen,” a statement on the website reads. “We sincerely appreciate the love and support we have felt over the past couple decades from people of all varieties and backgrounds.”
In 1995, Carey and chef Chris Israel opened the SW Broadway restaurant, known for its Asian small plates. It was one of Carey’s first openings in a growing restaurant empire. The venue grew eventually took on a mid-2000s lychee martini vibe, accented by the bar’s live djs and tall ceilings. Israel eventually left the restaurant, and, in the late 2000s, it became the stomping grounds of Top Chef darling Gregory Gourdet until 2010.
This past March, the restaurant, along with Carey’s others, closed in response to the spread of COVID-19 in Portland. Soon, employees from across Carey’s restaurant portfolio reported that their final paychecks were 25 percent short, with a note from Carey that said “without any sales this week we came up short and are forced to defer 25 percent of your compensation until the restaurant reopens.” At the time, Carey told Eater PDX that he intended to pay back those employees in full; he later clarified that he had done so.
In June, Carey closed his restaurant Bluehour, a longstanding Pearl District celebration restaurant. “The prospects for a profitable relaunch have dimmed considerably in the context of a far-off, post-COVID future where casual service, social-distancing, to-go service and delivery are all key to any viable restaurant business plan,” Carey’s statement, posted on the restaurant’s now-deleted Facebook page, read.
Then, in August, Saucebox showed up in the news again: A former server filed a lawsuit against the downtown restaurant, co-owner Joe Rogers, and three other employees for workplace discrimination. Jorge Bello, a former busser and server, says he was subjected to harassment and a racially hostile environment while working for the restaurant, specifically because of the comments made by general manager Nick Perdue. In the lawsuit, Bello claims Perdue regularly talked about how “white people had been proven genetically superior to all other races,” called him racist epithets in the workplace, and referred to him as “illegal.” Perdue told Willamette Week that he denies committing any sort of racist discrimination or harassment at the company.
The lawsuit also says, after Rogers was informed, the company initially fired Perdue, but eventually re-hired him in an upper-level position within the company. In a written statement, Rogers told Willamette Week that the lawsuit was “inaccurate,” and that “Saucebox is fully committed to equal employment opportunities, does not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and is a proud member of the diverse Portland community.”
According to the alt-weekly, documents from Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries say that Perdue was rehired as an assistant to Rogers, “with the condition that Mr. Perdue take a diversity training course;” those same BOLI documents say “some Saucebox employees confirmed Mr. Perdue espoused politics that made them uncomfortable and claimed he was racist.” The case is currently in the process of settling out of court.
A ‘for lease’ sign has appeared in the window of Saucebox, and the restaurant’s Facebook page has been deleted. Carey’s other restaurants, Clarklewis and 23Hoyt, remain open for takeout. Carey has not responded to a request for comment regarding the closure; it’s unclear how the lawsuit played into the decision to close.
• Saucebox [Official]
• Chef Gregory Gourdet of Saucebox [PoMo]
• Bruce Carey Restaurant Group Reduces Laid Off Employees’ Final Paychecks by 25 Percent [EPDX]
• Restaurateur Bruce Carey’s Celebration Spot Bluehour Will Not Reopen After Almost 20 Years in the Pearl District [EPDX]
• Jorge Bello v. Saucebox [Official]
• The Manager at a Prominent Downtown Portland Restaurant Got Fired for Racism—and Then Quietly Rehired [WWeek]