Normally I don't bring up personal issues on Good Stuff NW. It's here to help me understand and then explain to you the issues around our food system and how it works, and how we can support our local farmers and producers by eating seasonally from the bounty our region offers. But then something came up that needs to be addressed.
Over the weekend Dave had an accident and was loaded into an ambulance and whisked off to Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU). I haven't seen him since that moment.
To its credit, OHSU has forbidden visitors, even family members, from the hospital, due to the danger of COVID-19, especially the surge of cases from the Delta variant that is burning through the country. This surge is primarily among the unvaccinated, who account for more than 80 percent of new cases in Oregon and nearly all of the deaths.
So your vaccination status is directly affecting me.
I can't be there to hold Dave's hand, to stroke his cheek, to arrange the covers on his bed, to give him a cup of water, to call the nurse if he needs assistance. I can't get to know his nurses; I can only be his advocate from a distance.
This is because there are people out there, and I'm hoping my readers are not among them, who refuse to get vaccinated against the virus. They are causing it to spread and filling up our hospitals and ICUs, exhausting our already strained health care system, not to mention the essential workers in that system. (Obviously I'm not talking about those few who can't get the vaccine for health reasons, or about children under 12 who are not yet eligible. They're victims, too.)
And those unvaccinated people are keeping me from caring for my husband.
If you have a relative or friend who is unvaccinated, share this story with them. They're the reason Dave is lying in a hospital bed alone with only overburdened hospital staff to make him feel loved and cared for.
I met Mark Doxtader of Tastebud when I wrote the Market Watch column for the Oregonian's FoodDay section, and he was running his wildly successful wood oven pizza business—one of the city's first mobile oven businesses at the time—at the Portland Farmers Market. He has consistently offered Portlanders the highest quality handmade breads, bagels, pizzas and salads—not to mention that heavenly porchetta—made from locally grown produce and meats. Like Cory Carman's essay from last week, I felt this message from his newsletter was invaluable to understanding what the people who make up our food system are dealing with.
For continued safety and precaution, we ask that everyone continues to wear masks when picking up orders. With the confusing “progress” we have made in the pandemic, playing it safe and remaining cautious has served the community well and allowed us to stay open. It has only been a couple weeks since we moved our pickup table from the doorway to just inside our shop. It felt like a baby step forward, although mainly spurred by the extreme temperatures outside.
We are tired and a little weary but still in a holding pattern. But we are committed to waiting out the pandemic and and are hopeful for some additional government assistance to make the changes we are in need of to adapt to a modified service style. Doing to-go only for the last 18 months has been a temporary solution to our global crisis. Although we have all adjusted, modified and survived thus far, we continue thinking about and focusing our intentions towards our next iteration. We remain patient and dependent on the health and safety of our staff and community.
We are a very small crew. In the last year we have had two fulltime employees who have been with us five years each. In addition, we have three people who are part time, who also live with me, and a sprinkling of friends that have dependably pitched in. And last but most definitely not least, we have my two daughters who have been integral and vital to the last year, in keeping our doors open and me "sane." These are the vaccinated folks that are keeping us running.
At this very moment, we all are nervous and not so comfortable with “opening up," especially as we existed before the lockdowns. It is really hard to imagine how it all used to operate in such a small space—can’t imagine how we used to squeeze 11 staff and 40 guests inside. As we can see in the world, and now with the dramatic domestic COVID uptick, this pandemic is really not over. Not even close.
We enjoyed the short “loosening," but we just don’t see a path that takes us back to how things were. The old way of our industry has revealed its cracks. And we are not comfortable just plugging those holes and moving on. Working in the service industry will not be the same, nor should it be. Late nights, low wages, rampant substance abuse, unfair, unpredictable and misguided tipping systems, and more entitled and rude customers who just seem out to make overt political statements when going out for dinner.
After non-essential services were mandated to close, I explained to my youngest daughter that I wasn't sure if another customer would ever set foot in our dining room. I was not sure if we would go out of business or if our operation would fundamentally change to survive a new world. My goal when this all went down was to stay consistent and dependable as much as humanly possible. Not changing hours, not changing service style, trying to keep my family, staff and community safe. Trying to stick with what folks know us for, pizza inspired by the farmers. I am so thankful for the community that has supported us through all of this.
So, ultimately, we are spending days and nights trying to imagine and plan what Tastebud 5.0 will be, in what is our 21st year of operation and 6th year in Multnomah Village. Ideas range from more pizza, more bagels, more breads, chicken dinners, lunch sandwiches, bakery, coffee, private dining, mutual aid, and how we can support disadvantaged communities. We are waiting for a committed pivot to fulfill our goals and not continuing this temporary setup that is keeping us afloat. We are hoping the restaurant revitalization fund will come through, but we are not holding our breath.
I hope we all stay safe, heathy and vigilant and that we see you soon.
This week it was Steve Jones's Cheese Bar. Before that it was Andy Ricker's Pok Pok empire. The Portland restaurant industry website Portland Food and Drink shows more than 80 restaurants, pubs and related establishments have closed since the pandemic struck in March of this year.
Due to spiking positive cases of COVID-19, on Friday Governor Kate Brown declared a two-week statewide "freeze" on top of the "pause" she announced just the week before. She warned that Multnomah County was one of five that might have to brace themselves for at least a four-week shutdown, possibly stretching into mid-December, if not longer.
The news of this latest shutdown hit Oregon's restaurant and hospitality industry hard. On Sunday, the Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon (IRAO), formed in response to the pandemic to assist restaurants in responding to the crisis, issued a letter to Governor Brown and policy makers requesting that they convene a special session of the legislature to address the issues faced by Oregon's small businesses.
Noting that nearly nine percent of Oregon's workforce is employed by the industry, the letter, signed by more than 300 members, said that restaurants and bars aren't like hardware stores. "We can’t just flip a switch and walk away," the letter states.
"When restaurants close, the entire supply chain is disrupted, from root to roofline," the letter continues. "Sixty five percent of the revenue from independently owned restaurants and bars recirculates in the local economy. In addition to the nearly 200,000 Oregonians who are employed by restaurants and bars, our closure directly impacts bakers, fishers, butchers and Oregon’s 34,000 small farms."
While acknowledging the seriousness of the pandemic and the need to take swift action to keep communities safe, the IRAO letter reminds policy makers that government needs to take responsibility for the economic damage these mandates have inflicted on the state's small businesses.
"We've made $2,000 this entire year," said Emily Anderson of tiny P's and Q's Market in Portland's Woodlawn neighborhood. "A government mandate should come with government support. Something's got to give."
My name is (your name). I am a resident in your district. Due to coronavirus, many restaurants in my neighborhood won’t survive the winter. As you may know, most restaurants don’t actually make money on food, but on alcoholic drinks. If these businesses do not survive, the heart of my neighborhood will be ripped out.
I’m writing to ask that you take immediate action to help restaurants and bars survive, such as an extension of the commercial eviction moratorium and the ability to sell cocktails to go. With emergency requirements that both reduce occupancy and hours of operation during the pandemic, having another method of generating revenue would provide businesses a lifeline for survival. As they face the long-term structural challenges that COVID-19 has imposed on business, which was designed to be a gathering space, they are desperate for sustainable tools to help navigate the new normal.
Restaurants and bars account for nine percent of all employment in Oregon. And nearly 65 percent of the revenue from these businesses recirculates into the local economy keeping vendors, landlords and employees afloat. This small change to Oregon statute will help us keep businesses open and bring people back to work.
This is an URGENT REQUEST. Without your help now there’s a very good chance places of business in my neighborhood will be permanently closed by the next time the legislature convenes.