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slides: Portland Restaurant Insiders React to Possible Demolition of Veritable Quandary Patio

Friday, December 19, 2014


The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners decided unanimously on Thursday that the property next to 1220 SW 1st Ave. will be the preferred site of a new courthouse.  The decision is getting backlash from key players in one of the city’s major industries.

After hearing from numerous community members, commissioners accepted the reccomendation of a preferred site which would put the courthouse on a parcel of county-owned land, currently the patio and kitchen site of cherished 45-year watering hole and restaurant Veritable Quandary.

Reaction to the county’s move from Portland restaurateurs, staff, and investors drew a mix of ire, disappointment, calls for compensation, and resignation to urban growth.  Many were vocal on social media in the lead-up to the vote.

In the city's renowned restaurant scene, some worried about the same thing happening to their businesses, while others called the county's move "despicable."

VQ owner Dennis King told GoLocalPDX Monday said the decision would take his business away, noting the restaurant employs 70 people with a payroll of $1.7 million.

“I thought we were a community that supported small business," he said. 

Although a final decision is several months away, a petition calling for the county, Central Courthouse Project Manager JD Deschamps, and Multnomah County Board of Commissioners Chair Deborah Kafoury to find another location had over 2,770 signatures Thursday.  

“The preferred site would have dire consequences for the Veritable Quandary, a downtown Portland restaurant that has been a cornerstone of the city’s dining scene for nearly 44 years,” the letter, filed Dec. 16 on the advocacy site Change.org, stated. 

The preliminary planning proposal mentions 11 sites that responded to the county’s solicitation for bids, selecting four finalists based on the findings of a “scoring team.” The group, comprised of what the county called a “cross section of professionals both inside and outside” Multnomah County, assessed the sites based on a scoring process of 17 topics and 70 criteria.

Of the 11 properties submitted to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners as possible sites for a new Multnomah County Courthouse, only two will be considered.  One, the public property adjacent to the Hawthorne Bridge on-ramp on SW Naito Pkwy, and current site of VQ’s patio; the other, an alternate site in a privately owned parking lot directly east of the KOIN center.

The public comment period held during Thursday’s regular meeting stretched well into the afternoon.  With the county’s recommendation out of the way, next steps include an environmental assessment and a geological exploration. An open house is planned for Jan. 29 at the Multnomah Building.


Related Slideshow: Portland restaurant insiders react to possible demolition of Veritable Quandary’s patio

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Kurt Huffman

Driving force behind ChefStable

“We’re all at the mercy of the city growing and developing,” the driving force behind ChefStable, says. 

Any agreement to lease a space carries the risk that it can at some point be repossessed, he said.

“I had one of the first drinks in my life at the VQ,” he said, noting King was a forerunner in “doing things the right way” by locally sourcing food.

He said the challenges of development are not unique to VQ, and ultimately owner Dennis King had a “sweetheart deal for one of the best patios in town.”

When Huffman was asked for guidance on the issue by VQ insiders, he advised King to “have a hissy fit.” 

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Leslie Palmer

Owner- Thirst Bistro 

Thirst Bistro owner Leslie Palmer called the board’s decision Thursday “disgusting and despicable.”

“As a fellow restaurateur, if they can do this to Denny, they can do this to me,” she said. “It feels like Multnomah County doesn’t want restaurants in downtown Portland."

Palmer called the VQ a downtown institution, her favorite restaurant aside from her own. Her favorite memory at VQ is eating lunch with her children, served by longtime waiter Dale. 

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Lisa Schroeder

Owner - Mother's Bistro and Bar

Mother’s Bistro and Bar owner Lisa Schroeder suggests the county offer VQ owner Dennis King a space on the bottom floor of the new courthouse.

“I would hate to be in the position VQ is in,” said Schroeder. “When you’ve built a business for years, to have it pulled out from under your feet.”

She said although it is public property, she is looking to the county to accommodate VQ, ensure the restaurant continues to exist, and perhaps compensate King.

“Unfortunately, restaurant owners are at the mercy of their landlords,” she said. 

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Mark Joseph

Former Veritable Quandary bartender of nine years, current bartender at El Gaucho

“It's a huge disappointment,” said former Veritable Quandary bartender of nine years Mark Joseph. “It feels like you’ve got an institution there that now has to break down half their operation.”

Joseph called the restaurant a staple on the Portland restaurant scene.

“The Quandary has stood the test of time in a non-corporate way,” he said.

Joseph said the county should have worked with VQ owner Dennis King to find a compromise. He said to have an outdoor patio is to have two restaurants, and to lose one is to lose a restaurant. 

But he said rather than the patio, the larger issue will be replacing the kitchen. 

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Micah Camden

Owner of Blue Star Donuts, Little Big Burger, Sun of a Biscuit, and others 

Portland restaurant empresario Micah Camden’s first date was at VQ. He said both the construction process and the layout of a new Multnomah County courthouse would impact the restaurant. 

“The patio is magical,” he said. “You start building and it’s going to really change.”

He said despite backlash from the restaurant community, it’s out of owner Dennis King’s hands.

“You can’t stop the government from taking it away.” 

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Leather Storrs

Co-owner - Noble Rot 

Leather Storrs, co-owner of Noble Rot wine bar, said it was ironic a bar frequented by attorneys would be the bar impacted by a courthouse development.

Storrs said King's restaurant's primary draw is being taken away. 

“I feel awful for the restaurant owner,” he said.

Storrs said Noble Rot suffered when traffic patterns changed on E. Burnside.

Aside from VQ, Storrs called the downtown waterfront district “a wasteland” with few gathering places. 


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