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Portland Restaurateur David Machado Will Close All of His Restaurants Permanently

Eater logo Eater 5/23/2020 Alex Frane
a living room filled with furniture and a large window: Pullman Wine Bar and Merchant will not be reopening © Dina Avila/Official Pullman Wine Bar and Merchant will not be reopening

A Portland restaurateur has announced that he will close not one, but all of his five restaurants because of COVID-19. David Machado, a hotel-based restaurateur, will be permanently closing the rooftop bar Altabira City Tavern, Citizen Baker, Italian restaurant Nel Centro, Pullman Wine Bar and Merchant, and Northwestern bistro Tanner Creek Tavern. “There’s no pathway back to a viable business,” Machado says, referencing the many hurdles that the restaurants will likely face if reopened.

There are a few factors that make David Machado Restaurants especially vulnerable to the perils of reopening — perhaps most obvious is that all of them are housed in hotels, and there’s no indication at all when Portland’s tourism scene will return to anything approaching normal. Additionally, each of them relied heavily on a steady stream of concert, sports, and event-goers — Nel Centro was a popular spot for ticket-holders going to a show at the Keller Auditorium, while Altabira and Pullman pulled in Blazers fans heading to the nearby Moda Center and crowds attending the various events at the Convention Center across the street. Tanner Creek Tavern’s position in the Pearl meant that most nights saw diners headed to shows at the Armory, or stopping in for a post-performance drink.

Even the flashy design of the restaurants, once a selling point, is now a hindrance, as large dining rooms with hundreds of seats surrounding a central bar wouldn’t fit the new state guidelines for reopening, Machado says. “There’s going to be increased labor because of safety, sanitation, preparation, moving tables and chairs... opening duties, closing duties, hosting — everything changes. It will require more labor but we anticipate revenue going down 50 to 70 percent,” he explains. The private dining rooms in each restaurant would have to stay closed as well — social distancing is impossible in such intimate quarters.

Machado spent the last 40 years of his life in restaurants, the last 30 of them here in Portland. Nel Centro, which opened in 2009, was his first while his most recent, Pullman Wine Bar and Merchant, opened last September in the same Hotel Eastlund as Altabira. “I’ve had a long and successful career, I wouldn’t change anything,” Machado says. “But I had 170 employees that are now unemployed.” If he did reopen restaurants, and then a lack of revenue or a resurgence of the pandemic forced them to close again, it would just be worse. “I could not bear to go through layoffs again.”

He’s not feeling optimistic about the future of Portland’s restaurant scene as a whole, due to the pandemic. “I think more of what I’m telling you is going to happen in the next 30 days,” Machado says. “It has the potential to wipe out the owner-operator class: the mom and pop, independent places owned by one or two people... All the businesses grown from passion and creativity. It leaves the corporations, the highly capitalized with more space. Portland is built on the entrepreneurial spirit, it’s what’s made this city great,” says Machado. “This attacks the very notion of who are.”

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