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Renner's Grill among Multnomah County restaurants struggling to hang on after extended COVID-19 closures

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Steve Potter, owner of Renner's Grill in Southwest Portland, prepares a takeout order as restaurants in Multnomah County remained closed for dine-in customers. Renner's had just reopened in January 2020 after nearly two years of being closed due to fire damage, before having to close in March due to COVID-19.Hours before Gov. Kate Brown announced Multnomah County would not be approved to enter Phase 1 of the state's reopening plan, Steve Potter was busy in his restaurant kitchen.

Potter, who owns Renner's Grill in Multnomah Village, had been preparing for the shift from takeout-only orders to dine-in customers. The dining area at Renner's and other restaurants around Portland had been closed since March, in accordance with a statewide stay home order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Friday, June 12, was supposed to be Multnomah County's day to reopen restaurants, salons and gyms. The afternoon before, Potter was busy preparing biscuit batter for the following morning, in what he hoped would be the busiest day Renner's had seen in months. He had hired back two furloughed employees to get ready for the reopening.

"We're shooting for tomorrow, but there's been no official announcement," Potter noted Thursday afternoon.

Despite expectations and announcements from weeks prior, the state had yet to give the official green light for county businesses to reopen.

Three hours later, following a surge in coronavirus cases, Gov. Brown halted the county's reopening plans, saying Oregon needed to "press pause for one week."

"The noticeable increase in COVID-19 infections in Oregon over the past week is cause for concern," the governor said in a statement June 11. "In order to ensure that the virus is not spreading too quickly, I am putting all county applications for further reopening on hold for seven days."

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Steve Potter, owner of Renner's Grill in Southwest Portland, prepares a takeout order as restaurants in Multnomah County remained closed for dine-in customers. Renner's had just reopened in January 2020 after nearly two years of being closed due to fire damage, before having to close in March due to COVID-19.COVID-19 was just the latest blow in a string of incidents that kept the beloved Southwest Portland bar and restaurant in limbo during the past two years. In 2018, a cooking fire caused $150,000 in damage and shuttered the restaurant for 22 months.

Renner's had rebuilt and reopened on Jan. 31, only to be shut down again on March 23.

Despite the tumultuous turn of events, Potter said he's got nowhere to look but up.

"A year ago, I couldn't even imagine putting food out the door," Potter said. "There's not much more you can do but stay positive."

Potter said when he took over Renner's six years ago, people advised him not to worry too much about the food. "People mainly come for the drinks," he recalled hearing from neighborhood residents. That never really proved to be true.

Following a steady uptick in COVID-19 cases, Potter began to wonder when Renner's would serve food in-house again.

The restaurant has been serving to-go orders, which has been "enough to keep the doors open," Potter noted.

Potter isn't the only one who made major preparations Thursday, only to be caught off guard.

Marco's Café on Southwest 35th Avenue, announced Monday it had a surplus of food.

"After planning to reopen last Friday we prepared for our usual busy weekend with the place bustling — well, bustling as can be —  but that was not the case for Multnomah County restaurants," an email from the restaurant stated, noting a surplus of food on hand.

The halted reopening came on the heels of permanent restaurant closures across the city. In Multnomah Village, a Blue Star Donut shop was one of four across Oregon closing for good.


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