"It was one of the hardest things that ever happened to me," Elias Cairo, founder, and proprietor of Olympia Provisions Charcuterie said about the COVID-19 pandemic shuttering his operation. "The first wave that hits you is that you have all these unbelievable employees and you can't even open your doors. What do you say to them?"
The ripple effect of a nationwide shutdown on the restaurant industry hit home for most if not all Oregon proprietors, like it did for Cairo. In a community that prides itself on its world-class restaurants, farm-to-table ethos, and direct connection between neighborhood chefs and the neighborhoods they serve, closing the industry affected tens of thousands - all at once. It's not just about business, though.
"Most of us do not open restaurants to be successful business people," says James Beard award semifinalist Gregory Gourdet, executive chef of Departure restaurant in Portland, "It's because we feel passionate about serving others, we feel passionate about the culinary arts, we feel passionate about the ingredients Mother Nature provides."
Both Gourdet and Cairo talked about their life journeys on stage at TEDxPortland, Gourdet in 2015; Cairo the next year. How they both came from parents who had immigrated to the United States, scraping together an existence for their families, and how both found the support in the community of restaurants when life became challenged.
It is that same support they now ask - but of the community. More than waiting for restaurants to reopen, both Gourdet and Cairo ask the community to reach out and help support the people whose lives have been put on hold. Gourdet, in his May 2020 interview with KGW, noted the proposed federal Restaurant Stabilization Fund which, if enacted, would help support the half-million small restaurants in the United States. As of this writing of this article, the proposal was not yet enacted and had been moved to further discussion as part of a $3 trillion relief package under consideration in Washington. As both Gourdet and Cairo are very aware, a single restaurant closing affects an entire economy of small businesses. Support from all sources, federal, state, and local, is needed, not so much for themselves, but for the thousands whose names are not on the marquis.
Gregory Gourdet's 2015 TEDxPortland talk is titled "Look in the Mirror: A life reinvented".
Elias Cairo's 2015 TEDxPortland talk is titled "Entitlement is a Stinky Cologne".
For a complete listing of stories in this series go here and visit the KGW YouTube channel TEDx playlist.
For more information on TEDxPortland, visit their website.
This article is part of a continuing series presented by KGW in partnership with TEDxPortland.