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Chez José, beloved Mexican restaurant in SW Portland, closing after 35 years

The owners said they're ready to retire after pandemic-related staffing shortages made running their restaurant more challenging.

PORTLAND, Ore. — After 35 unforgettable years, Chez José off Terwilliger Boulevard in Southwest Portland will be closing on Oct. 8, the Mexican restaurant announced last week.  

"To sort of break up the family in that way was just a really wrenching decision to make for us," said co-owner Howie Schechter. 

Schechter said this difficult decision was influenced by two things: retirement and the staffing challenges. Like many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic changed how they were able to run things, directly impacting business. 

"We were open to-go only for a stretch, then we were able to open inside, then we had to close inside," said Schechter. 

They dropped from 35 employees pre-pandemic, now down to 17. 

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"We survived a lot longer than other people and I think it's because of our customer base and our employees," said fellow co-owner Tom Midrano. 

Since their closing announcement, they've been flooded with voicemails, messages and comments on social media.

Many of their kitchen staff have been working for Schechter and Midrano for decades. Jose Antonio Leon has been working in the kitchen for over 26 years and Martina Reyes for 16 years. 

"We're sad because we've been working for the owners for a long time and for us, it's like a second home,” said Leon. 

Posted by Chez Jose West on Wednesday, September 21, 2022

“But like the great co-pilots we've been from inside the kitchen, we are going to accompany our captain until the last day,” said Martina. “And we're going to wait for them to close, then we'll start looking for another job."

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The owners are helping their kitchen staff find a job elsewhere, and Leon already has an interview later this week. 

"It has been a wild ride, but we are really proud of what we have achieved. Our customer base is amazing. Our employees are amazing and we wish we could have kept it going," said Midrano. 

"The gratitude and appreciation we have is just beyond words," said Schechter.

Schechter and Midrano said they would love to sell the restaurant to a new owner who could keep it going, but there's been no interest so far. 

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