The Mediterranean food concept grows from a single food truck to a prime spot on Capitol Highway

PHOTO BY BILL GALLAGHER - Alex Nenchev, head chef and owner of Gastro Mania is hoping locals will like his MOnday night tapa spread.Gastro comes from the Greek word for stomach. Mania comes from Greek for madness. In a good way. Gastro Mania. The name may be new to Multnomah Village but it's already an established brand among those who know their local food scene.

O'Connors on Multnomah Boulevard is no more. In mid-October it was transformed into Gastro Mania where every Monday night is now Tapas Night.

Alex Nenchev is the head chef and owner. Like many Portland restaurants, his started on four wheels as a food truck. Success came so he expanded, going the brick-and-mortar route with a small deli/cafe on NW Pettygrove in the Alphabet District. More success. So now he's taking a chance on a hallowed site in Multnomah Village.

Nenchev has big plans. "Monday nights will be Tapas Night from 6pm to 10pm. It's going to be $25 per person including drink - beer or cocktail. Aslo we're going to have a happy hour. 3pm to 6pm. Cocktails and appetizers as well. Rest of the week we'll be open from 11am to close. Lunch and dinner. We're working on a menu for brunch on Sunday," he said.

PHOTO BY BILL GALLAGHER - Menchev with bartender Kaylee Renner and Gastro Mania general manager Ryan Kim."We're going to re-open O'Connors Vault next door as well. It's going to be the same as it used to be with live music and comedy. Steve Arel from O'Connors is going to host some events in The Vault."

But really it's about the food. Nenchev, who describes himself as a "classically-trained Continental and Mediterranean executive chef," describes what he's got in mind for Multnomah Village, "It's European. Mostly Spanish, French and Italian. With a little bit of Greece. We're going to have a lot of seafood. A lot of fresh fish."

The road to his new location began in Bulgaria where he was born. He moved to Munich, Germany and then ten years ago came to the Portland area to live with his brother in Vancouver, WA. Along the way he spent some time in San Francisco but was less than impressed with that city's reputation..

"I lived for three years in San Francisco. I had read in the books about San Francisco and I was thinking I could see some interesting things. I was a little disappointed. San Francisco was not like what it used to be.

"There is no more quality food there, no more quality restaurants. Because of all the tourists, nobody cares about quality. They know those tourists aren't going to be coming back," he said.

But that's exactly what Nenchev wants here. People coming back because they like the food. Regulars, in other words, like those customers who keep coming back to his NW Portland deli.

"Exactly. That's how you build a business. Over here we always have the same customers. It's a community. I came to Multnomah Village because it's a really good spot. This is a really good community. With my first food cart I wanted to be here six years ago, in the French Quarter across the street. But we didn't agree on the terms of the lease.

"The owners of this building, they found me and they talked to me", he said.

As reported in The SW Community Connection in September, the building's owner, Jason Loomis, was a regular at Nenchev's NW location.

"We went to him and we said 'Hey we love your food and we love what you do culinary wise. We'd love to have you be our tenant. He (Nenchev) brings a quality of food that is rare to find in my opinion and then you square that with what's currently offered in our market well....we're taking a great idea and putting it in a market where there is nothing like it," said Loomis.

Before Gastro Mania opened there was a map on the front window showing a swath of Europe and highlighting Macedonia. Some might have thought Multnomah Village was about to get a restaurant featuring food with a Balkan

back story.

"No," explains Nenchev, "that was a mistake by the people who made the map. It was bascially suppoed to show that we serve food that comes from Spain to Greece around the north side of the Mediterranean."


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