By Megan McMorris
When I last saw Daniel and Elise Gold in February of this year, we were sitting at Montavilla Brew Works (SE 76th and Stark) as they told me about their plans to open their new Sicilian deli, Sebastiano’s on SE 81st.
Set to open April 1, the deli was one of several new establishments along Stark Street, part of the newly minted Montavilla crew. They were in good company with Lazy Susan, White Rabbit and Tinker Tavern also slated to open their doors in the spring.
That was before things shut down. Before the world as we knew it ended. Before restaurants and bars had to scramble to reinvent their game plan.
“It was really gut-wrenching, and there were times when we almost scrapped our plans altogether,” says Gold when we reconnected via phone.
In the end, their Sicilian resiliency won out. “We decided the only path was forward,” and the Golds decided that the show must go on. Go on it did and they opened June 3 for pick-up and walk-up service.
Some things are different than originally planned. Instead of offering dine-in service, they utilize a Dutch door to take orders at the front. They rely more heavily on online orders, and utilize their back parking lot for pick-up and special event space.
They’ve utilized their indoor space differently as well. “Because we don’t have customers inside, we’ve basically doubled the size of our kitchen and we have more refrigeration than we’d otherwise have,” says Gold.
Being a family-run café (Daniel, Elise and a cousin), helped them bypass issues around unemployment and safety concerns too – another bonus.
“We’ve really appreciated the community support. It seems like most of our customers are Montavilla residents, so we’re very appreciative of the word of mouth,” says Gold.
Their reach, of course, extends beyond the Stark Street passersby. “We definitely have people driving from pretty far away for cannoli – it’s flabbergasting,” laughs Gold.
While Sebastiano’s is up and running, there are other new kids on the block that have had to hit the pause-and-reflect button. As a result, they’ve had time to concoct their own creative plans with the “new normal” considerations in mind.
Lazy Susan, the eagerly anticipated restaurant from Le Pigeon and Eem alums (occupying the former Country Cat space on SE 80th and Stark), also decided not to open their restaurant for indoor dining for now.
Instead, they’ve brought the grill (and the party) outside for lunchtime barbecues complete with a slushy machine, expanded outdoors seating and festive music.
Others, like Threshold Brewing and Blending on SE 79th and Vino Veritas on Stark and 78th, have expanded their outdoor seating areas to take advantage of extra elbow-room on their sidewalk or street. Same with southern-food favorite Roscoe’s and sushi place Miyamoto – next-door neighbors who share the same owners, menu items and even kitchen and who now co-host a new outdoors space along SE 81st.
Some long established businesses are forging new partnerships altogether to help each other thrive.
“We were thrilled when Redwood contacted us,” says Beer Bunker owner Kevin Overby, about their across-the-street neighbor. Redwood menus now sit at Beer Bunker’s tables so customers can place an order and have a server bring the food from across the street.
“It just made sense because we don’t have food but we have plenty of outdoor space, while theirs is limited,” he says. They may establish a similar partnership with nearby Bipartisan Café as well.
As new and old businesses start shaking to life, all neighborhood eyes have remained trained on the corner of SE 81st and Stark St., home of the former Eco Baby store. Originally slated to open in May, Tinker Tavern had shown no signs of life throughout the shutdown.
That will all soon change, says owner Erik Mahan. After permit delays due to the complicated nature of having to build a restaurant from scratch, and to the pandemic itself, they are starting to construct their space with the new considerations in mind. The pause has been a blessing in disguise.
“There’s definitely a silver lining to this,” says Mahan. “Because we’re in construction now, we can be flexible as we move along, and adjust accordingly, which is a lot easier to do than having to adjust a game plan that’s already set in stone.”
Among the adjustments: a larger outdoor seating area, fewer indoor tables and possibly even Plexiglas partitions.
“My contractor really has his finger on the pulse of what’s working and what doesn’t, and we’re just beginning the process now,” Mahan said.
The extra time caused Mahan to rethink his menu as well. “The downtime caused us to look at our food program differently and anticipate opening up with a to-go friendly menu, whereas before the food wasn’t as much of a focus,” he said.
When Tinker Tavern does open, look for homemade sausages to be part of the menu. Mahan, formerly of Stammtisch and Prost!, is both a seasoned chef and bartender.
While he doesn’t yet have a firm opening date in mind right now, Mahan is already feeling welcomed by the neighborhood.
“We’ve been popping into the local establishments to introduce ourselves and get to know people,” he said “and we’ve had a lot of positive feedback already, which is definitely encouraging and motivating as we prepare to open.”
Follow Tinker Tavern’s progress, at their Instagram page @TinkerTavernPDX.
Montavilla reminds me of the Fisher Price downtown scene just like the one I played with as a child. Mark, a lifelong resident, likens the neighborhood to Mayberry of the Andy Griffith Show.
“It’s like an old Main Street small-town feel in the middle of a pretty big city,” agrees Overby, who has lived in Montavilla for over 20 years.
“I love, for example, that our local breweries can just walk a keg down the street with a hand truck to deliver to us. We’ve been consciously supporting local business during this time, and it’s really enjoyable to see how our neighborhood is adjusting to this situation in a lot of creative ways.”