Walking into Malka for the first time, in January 2020, felt otherworldly. Completely original while exuding an old Portland charm, the restaurant opened as a converted house lit with imported light fixtures, vines dangling from small nooks and shelves throughout the restaurant’s small dining rooms. Sitting at mismatched chairs and cushioned banquettes, visitors ate astoundingly intricate food, dishes with dozens of components — apricot-curry barbecue sauce, nam prik pao, Thai basil cashew pesto, passionfruit-pineapple-habañero hot sauce. The restaurant was the city’s reintroduction to chefs Jessie Aron and Colin McArthur, who had previously run a wildly popular food cart, Carte Blanche; they had closed the cart to open a restaurant in 2016, but gathering funds and renovating the space took longer than expected. “I think I was defeated for a while. Now, I’m not,” Aron told Eater, days before the opening. “Now, I’m working my tuchus off. I’m cooking as much food as I possibly can.”
In February — just over three years after opening on Southeast Division — Aron and McArthur will close their business once again. In a Monday Instagram announcement, the Malka team announced their intentions to shutter, attributing the decision to the financial and emotional strain of running a restaurant right now.
Opening weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down dining rooms, Malka quickly transitioned into a takeout-centric model, boxing up curry bolognese and matzo ball khao soi. Like so many other restaurants, relying solely on takeout put Malka in a perilous position, though it kept the business afloat. In an attempt to improve Malka’s financial position, McArthur and Aron made their menu prix-fixe only, with a set gratuity. However, in their words, it wasn’t enough — financially or personally.
“Our staff should already be making a higher wage and receiving health care benefits, with plenty of room in the budget for regular raises, but our profits and bank account simply don’t support this,” Aron writes in the Instagram post. “Meanwhile, Colin, Chris, and I are growing more and more exhausted with the physical and mental demands of running a restaurant while going further and further into personal debt.”
The restaurant will remain open until February 26, though reservations have already disappeared.
“The love I have for you who supported us so faithfully these past three years and the love I have for our staff past and present, who worked hard and lit up the house like a miracle, goes way beyond my powers of expression,” Aron writes. “That warmth will stay with me in memory for the rest of my life.”
Read the full statement below: