Renner's Grill owner gets ready to rebuild historic tavern
For eight months, the fate of Renner's Grill has has been an obsession among its regular patrons, casual customers and many who have never set foot in what may be the oldest surviving business in Multnomah Village.
Wednesday night is Bingo Night at Renner's, as many know, and it was just before 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 28, when a flash fire from frying hamburgers jumped up into the hood vent system and ignited a two-alarm grease fire that did $150,000 in damage.
Renner's Grill, which should be celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2019, hasn't been open for business since.
Owner Steve Potter says he is committed to beginning the work needed to reopen Renner's once he clears the permitting process. That could hapopen soon, according to Alex Cousins with the City's of Development Services.
"The permit is currently under review and looks close to being issued," Cousins told The Connection.
That's good news to Potter, who says "we're an institution, not just a bar." He vows to reopen Renner's, "Oh absolutely. As soon as I get this place renovated and ready to be a bar business again, I'll be here with beer cans and a big production,"
Renner's Grill has a rich history. It was in 1939 that Milo and Bessie Renner bought the Cry Baby Cafe and named it after themselves. Milo reportedly went on to become Multnomah's first millionaire.
If Renner's Grlll is going to make it to 80, major work will have to be done to the interior and exterior of the 1,266-square-foot building, which Potter bought earlier this year.
"Out of a great stroke of luck, the fire happened the day before closing," said Potter. "I'm being sarcastic. The day after I sink my life savings into it, it's worth half as much as I paid for it."
Potter worked at Renner's before he bought it. He was the bingo announcer on Wednesday nights, and he gets emotional talking about his efforts to get back in business.
"Fourteen people are depending on me for their livelihoods," he said. "It's costing me $6,500 a month to keep the doors closed. That's not sustainable. This is frustrating. I need to get back up and running. We miss everybody."
The source of Potter's frustration is the permitting process, he says.
"They're asking for all this exorbitant information, which is frustrating because it means more work and more time," he said, surveying the pretty-much-gutted interior of his tavern.
BDS says it is following the usual procedures in reviewing the case. Cousins, the bureau's communications manager, says the case was opened on Sept. 21 and "the permit process for the Renner's renovations is well underway."
Potter says he hopes to have a permit in hand by the end of the year, "but I don't hold out any expectations."
Among other things, the City is requiring that he replace a portion of one of the walls, put in a new lower roof, install low walls on the roof, put in a new slab floor and insulate walls damaged by fire.
Then there's the space next to Renner's that runs between Southwest Troy Street and Capitol Highway and is known as Renner's Alley. Its fate is hanging in the balance, and Potter recently took to Facebook to vent.
"The city has no record of the alleyway between Renner's and the dry cleaners," he wrote. "We need to reopen and the City is doing everything they can to hinder us. This could affect the whole community."
Inside Renner's Grill in late November, Potter was somber as he looked around at what used to be a thriving business.
"We were doing really well. We had expanded hours," he said. "Everyone in Multnomah Village wants us back. We're a destination. That's the feedback I'm getting from people."
But will he be back in time to set up tables and chairs for Multnomah Village Days next August?
"Oh, we were there this year. We were asked repeatedly if we were going to do something. So we did something even though we couldn't open. We did the same thing for Halloween," Potter said.
GoFundMe pages have been established for workers at Renner's who lost their jobs and to help pay for repairs not covered by insurance. To help, search for Renner's Grill at GoFundMe.com.