On March 16, 2020, Gov. Kate Brown announced that dining rooms across the state would shut down indefinitely. As COVID-19 cases started to climb in Oregon, our neighbor to the north, Washington, was already battling a monster, trying to contain the rapidly spreading outbreaks across the state. Oregon’s onsite dining ban, while seen as a necessity and requested by a number of restaurant owners, brought one of the state’s largest industries to a standstill. More than 80 percent of Oregon’s restaurant workers were out of work in a matter of weeks, if not days. Those who kept their jobs were working constantly, trying to navigate takeout, how to shift their businesses to be profitable, how to pay rent — all while pushing down the fear of a potential outbreak, an illness that might kill them.
Portland is defined by its food and beverage culture. It brought tourists here and put the city on the national stage. People satirized our fierce loyalty to locality and preservation, our slouchy chefs and their obsessive pursuit of the delicious. We’re proud of our culinary prowess, our chefs, our farmers, our brewers. We’re proud of their humility and accessibility. To imagine this city without its food carts, its restaurants, its bars — that’s incomprehensible. And still, so many are now gone, a year later, unable to hold on after a year of brutalities.
Any moment of reflection regarding the last year, any consideration of what we gained or learned, is held, simultaneously, with indescribable grief. People with newly opened restaurants and bars lost their dream businesses, lost their lives. Chefs and business owners lost family members, lost friends and colleagues. But the restaurant industry, as a whole, survived, the final girl at the end of a horror movie, bloody and exhausted and alive. Oregon, without its food and drink culture, is not Oregon; this industry survived because it had to, even if that meant turning event spaces into mutual aid kitchens, Instagram accounts into pop-up hubs, fine dining spots into walk-up windows.
The pandemic is not over, and there is still so much more to be done. In these stories, we look back at what this industry has fought through, lost, and overcome, what it has learned, how it has grown. We look at the state of the Portland food world today — the shuttered restaurants, the takeout windows, the pandemic pop-ups — and we reflect on the moments of creativity, resilience, and strength in the past year. In stories new and old, we check back in with some of the leaders in the last year to see where they are now. For a more comprehensive look back at the last year of the COVID-19 pandemic, this story stream will do.