After 40 years on Southeast Morrison Street, Zell’s Cafe will close on May 2, according to a sign posted at the restaurant. The statement attributes the closure to “increased labor and food costs,” saying “the Zell’s Cafe model does not work in 2023.” Zell’s has been a neighborhood favorite for decades, known for its German pancakes and scones, served warm while customers wait for their food.
In 1983, Tom Zell opened Zell’s in a brick building once home to a shoe store, pharmacy, and soda fountain. In 1996, Zell sold his cafe to Judy Sacheck, the former owner of legendary Portland restaurant Besaw’s, who passed on the business to employees Nance Jansen and Michael Gaines in 2006. For years, the cafe hosted its regulars at the counter, who would peer at the chalkboard to check out specials like smoked salmon Benedicts or croque madame. In its heyday, the breakfast cafe would attract long lines on the weekends for its generous portions and strong coffee served in glass mugs.
In its time open, Zell’s has accrued praise from publications around the city, including Eater Portland; the restaurant appears on the city’s top breakfast map, described as a “no-fuss breakfast cafe” that “feels like one of those places that’s been around forever.” In 2010, the Oregonian ranked Zell’s as the city’s best breakfast restaurant, celebrating its “incredible angel-light miniature scones, press pots of fragrant loose black tea, and creamy omelets.” The cafe also received a nod from Portland Monthly, who specifically noted the restaurant’s gorgonzola, mushroom, and thyme omelet.
The forthcoming closure announcement notes that the business will transform into something new, presumably under the same ownership. “We are reimagining the space and will return with a different concept at some point,” the announcement reads.
Until May 2, Zell’s will remain open at 1300 SE Morrison Street.