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'It's been a pivot over and over again': Portland restaurant owners reflect on pandemic challenges, closures

Over the weekend, owner Nate Tilden announced the permanent closure of Clyde Common in downtown Portland.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants across Portland struggled to stay afloat. The virus was new and unpredictable. 

Now, nearly two years later, many still face daily challenges and changes to remain open as the pandemic continues. 

"It's just been a pivot over and over and over again. We've built greenhouses outsides, we've built carports, we've built barriers," said Nate Tilden, a Portland restaurateur. "We're trying to find a way not close."

While some restaurants found success shifting and changing, others couldn't keep moving forward. Over the weekend, Tilden announced the time has come for one of his restaurants to close for good: Clyde Common, in the heart of downtown. 

RELATED: Several Portland restaurants temporarily close due to employees testing positive for COVID-19

"We were part of the movement that really put Portland on the map," he said. "What we did with Clyde Common in 2007, we did a hotel bar and restaurant that were independently owned... and we said, what if this was the place to be: food, cocktails, wine program, energy. I think that we can do groundbreaking work."

The permanent closure is bittersweet. Since he posted the official, permanent closure on social media, Tilden said he's received hundreds of uplifting messages and comments.

"There has not been one negative comment. Not even one. It has been pure love, memories, stories from the heart. It chokes me up. We did good work. We did really good work."

Tilden said his objective now is to keep open the restaurants that can not only survive, but thrive, like Bar Casa Vale in Southeast Portland. 

"We have an outdoor area, we have a great fire pit, we have this ability to really have people not in our immediate space. So through a pandemic, that's worked. And it's our duty to do everything we can to keep the lights on."

Back downtown, many others, like Bob Cassidy, owner of Cassidy's on Southwest Washington Street, said last summer things were finally ramping up for the restaurant before an unexpected setback unrelated to COVID. 

"We had made changes [with] how we operated, how we staff. There were challenges everywhere you turn," he said. "We weren’t up to speed yet, but we were doing way better, way more efficient, way more profitable even and then the fire."

In late June, a fire on a floor above caused smoke and water damage to his first-floor restaurant. A temporary closure meant to last weeks, turned into months. Repairs are now underway. Cassidy said he plans to reopen around April or May. 

Despite the temporary shutdown, he said it gave him more time to reflect on what he wants the restaurant to be for his customers in the future. 

"I kind of recommitted to what it is that we do here," he said. "I think we're going to do fine. It's going to be different. It's going to be a challenge, but everyone who's in this industry can say that same thing and they'd be right."