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Reviving a former restaurant on Holgate Boulevard with blood, sweat, and crowdfunding

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - At an informal champagne celebration and painting party on September 8 for the forthcoming new Towne Crier restaurant, from left: Heidi Lawler, building manager; Tacee Cobb, owner; Stuart Ramsay is partially hidden, holding the champagne bottle; and Jeffrey Kaplan is wearing the nextseedfunding T-shirt. Many neighbors in the Woodstock and Creston-Kenilworth Neighborhoods say they are breathing a big sigh of relief, having heard that the long-planned strip club and cannabis dispensary will not be going in, after all, at the corner of S.E. 41st Avenue and Holgate Boulevard.

The long-vacant building at 4515 S.E. 41st has been home to various restaurants over the last six decades – Ye Olde Town Crier, the Hollyhurst Neighborhood Grill, Grandma's, and most recently The Hutch. Now it will be renovated and restored to give re-birth to a restaurant called, once again, the "Towne Crier".

The new owner of the 7,000 sq. ft. building, Tacee Webb, tells THE BEE that she and her daughter were frequent patrons of Grandma's Restaurant when she moved to Portland back in 1999. They used to sit on a little bench outside the restaurant, and they have great memories of home-style food.

"I became very sentimental about this neighborhood restaurant and have had my eye on buying it for many years." Last year Webb was finally able to purchase it, when Johnny "Diablo" Zukle's strip club project fell through. (He still owns Casa Diablo on McLoughlin Boulevard, in Sellwood.)

Webb is known throughout Portland as someone who has, over the years, assiduously collected antiques, architectural items, and even signs from iconic restaurants and bars that have been demolished to create apartments and office towers.

On Saturday, September 8th, a painting party and celebration was held at the new Towne Crier, which will open on a model similar to McMenamins – with a family dining room, a community coffee shop, and downstairs lounge.

At the ceremony, bagpipes, craft beer, and hot dogs from Otto's in Woodstock drew Webb's friends and co-workers, as well as people from the neighborhood. Tours of the building revealed the "old lodge" look with the antiques Webb has gathered.

"I've been collecting pieces to put in here," remarked Webb during a tour. "Three chandeliers from the Rhinelander, bricks from the Lotus Cardroom, chairs from the Fernwood Inn. Some of the chairs still have signs for the people who sat in them, such as Raquel Welch and Tom Jones."

Built as a house and market in 1927, the building was extensively renovated in 1953 to become the American Heritage style restaurant, "Ye Olde Towne Crier". People from all over the city would come to dine in the family-friendly atmosphere, with a décor that included stone fireplaces, totem poles, wall carvings of Pilgrims, and assorted other wood sculptures.

Ye Olde Town Crier served its home-style food for forty-three years before it closed in 1996 and became the Hollyhurst Grill. Then as the building transitioned to Grandma's, and later to The Hutch, the décor was kept for the most part, and the food remained much the same.

Webb says of her new plans, "I want the restaurant to be multi-generational, and be a place that covers all kinds of eating from the classics [from the original menu] – Yorkshire pudding, prime rib, grilled salmon, and with blueberry preserves on each table – but extending to vegan and gluten-free options."

Webb's business partner is Stuart Ramsay, a writer and consultant who's also well-known for his craft brews of Whisky Back beer and scotch. His new in-house brew will be called "The Crier". Assistant building manager Heidi Lawler also has longtime ties with the community, and will assist with the renovation.

Previously Webb owned and operated the Red Light Clothing Exchange while living in Seattle, and then opened the long-running Red Light vintage clothing store on Hawthorne Boulevard when she moved to Portland. She later sold the Red Light store and moved into a position with American Apparel, locating fifty store sites and handling project management duties as those stores were constructed.

Getting back to her new project, the coffee shop at the back of the building will be called "The Treasury", named for the collected old Portland pieces, and will open sometime near the Holidays in December. Starting at 7 a.m. there will be grab-n-go food, in addition to breakfast sandwiches, waffles, and pastries.

"The Treasury will serve three kinds of coffee: Happy Cup, which provides jobs and training to people who have disabilities; Central City Coffee, which works to end homelessness; local favorite K&F, an old Portland brand we love," says Webb. 

She adds, "My son Jack Ryder, now 15, will bring coffee to the tables on the weekends. Jack was born with Down Syndrome, and was featured on the cover of the Oregonian when he had a life-saving heart surgery at 4 months old. ["King of Heart, 2004".] Jack attends Cleveland High School." 

Funding for the project is innovative and, Webb says, in need of community support.

"This is place-based funding," explained Jeffrey Kaplan, Webb's longtime friend, and head of "Nextseed Funding", who flew in from Houston, Texas, for the ribbon cutting ceremonies. "This funding platform is 'people-to-people financing', the first one in Portland, a fully community-based project."

Webb adds, "We opted to finance this way, with our neighbors as our backers, rather than getting a loan from a big bank. We're hoping our community and future customers will invest in the success of this project." 

Those who would like to contribute to the project can contribute $100 minimum to a crowd investments funding effort in which contributors eventually receive both the return on an investment and a dividend. $150,000 more must be raised before October 22nd. That amount sounds a bit intimidating – but, apparently, over $50,000 had already been raised by September 10.

For more information on the funding project go online – www.townecrierpdx.com – and, to tour the forthcoming restaurant, contact Tacee Webb at 503/754-0731.

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