Today celebrates the opening of our restaurant, Gino's Restaurant and Bar, 17 years ago. I woke up thinking about what our goals and dreams for the restaurant were on that long ago day. Is it what we imagined it to be? Did we think it would last this long? A resounding yes and yes are my answers. We couldn't be more proud of our staff today. And when I think about the people I've been able to work with over the course of the last seventeen years my heart bursts with pride and love.
What we wanted right from the very first day was to have local, farm fresh foods on every table. Today we have that, but I laugh when I think of how I wanted that to take place in the beginning. For one thing one live ladybug found in a salad by a customer had her demanding a refund with a "if this is organic I don't want anything to do with it". Portland was quite different 17 years ago. There were just a few of us with a dream of how we could change the quality of the products to really show our passion and beliefs. I also had this fantasy that we would open our restaurant (myself, my husband and 1 employee) and once we were organized I would put in a large garden on our double lot (just 10 minutes from the restaurant) and grow all the organic produce ourselves. I almost fall over laughing as I think back to working for one and half years from 9am to midnight six days a week. On that day off we would run errands, get a massage from our dear friend Beth and then go to Zephiro (a wonderful and missed restaurant of Portland's history) to eat food someone else cooked. I was usually so exhausted that one cocktail in my skin would be so thin that I would take offense over the tiniest slight. Gardening? Are you kidding? At the end of one year we realized that even a 10 minute drive home was killing us so we moved into an apartment above our restaurant thinking we would sleep there when we were too tired to drive. We would stay there for 12 years (we never slept in that house again). At the end of two years the Sellwood neighborhood began to evolve. The Pearl district of Portland had developed into a destination for antique lovers so our daily lunch customers were no longer in our neighborhood wandering through old antique and junk shops. I was secretly jumping for joy. We were so tired even our customers were telling us to take a break. Changing our hours from Tues-Sun 11am to Midnight (10p on week nights) to 7 days a week 4p-11p (still 10p on week nights) was a blessing. We made more in that one extra night than we were making in all those days of lunch. We were able to hire more people (9 by this point) and take both Sunday and Monday off. Oh sleep you are my friend! People actually began to like us again;) Moving into that second year were we recognized as a "cheap eats" destination by Lisa Shara Hall, then of the Oregonian. We had made sure to open under the radar so we could work out all the kinks, but it was with a great sigh of relief when that review came. Going into year two we had borrowed from every relative we could, maxed out all our credit cards and were pretty much only eating in our own restaurant. Overnight our customer base jumped. Other local papers began to take notice and we were ready, but It's rough having new customers coming in with a review in their hands and expecting exactly what was written. It was the next wave that came in that were our people. The customers that come because of word of mouth. They have been told by their friends what the food, atmosphere and staff are like. Those first customers that returned only told friends that they knew would get it. And I have to admit that in those early days my moral compass was straight (maybe a little narrow) about our food. No parmesan on shellfish unless you have tasted the dish first. No ketchup or tabasco or A1 sauce on my steaks (that rule still holds). No cell phones in the restaurant (I never drug anyone out by their ear). And it was very important to us that a single woman or man could sit at our bar without being harassed. A few people were kicked out for that infraction. We had almost killed ourselves to get to this point of being a popular destination. We weren't doing this so that good hearted people could come in and give us advice on how to change and evolve to be more popular. If this was you I thank you for your kindness, but Gino's is Gino's and you come there because Marc is a bit irascible, your waitress will sit down with you to take your order and we remember who you are:) We did mellow out on the parmesan, but you will only receive a Cesar Salad with anchovies and croutons (don't even think of asking for chicken or salmon on top).
Over the years we have grown to 26 employees, I am not there very often (although you will find my husband, Marc, there just about every Friday and Saturday night). Today Portlanders demand local foods (we just had to wait for the evolution of the city and diner). We now support three local farmers and three ranchers. We are proud to tell their story along with our own. Because of Gino's we have had the opportunity to visit Italy many times. We've learned about the wine regions and have made dear friends in that industry and in the restaurants we've fallen in love with along the way. We've sent several of our staff over as well so that if we aren't in the restaurant to tell you stories find Tia (she's been with us for eleven years and is now in charge of our wine program) she can tell you about the wine you are ordering. Gino's has definitely evolved and grown and changed a bit over the years. We would die (or close) if we didn't. But what hasn't changed are the goals and dreams that Marc and I had from the very beginning. Gino's Restaurant and Bar is a neighborhood place. We serve good food with love. We welcome you back and take care of our regulars (some of which were there right from the very beginning). Gino's is very much a piece of our hearts.
And we are still very busy. We are no longer in the top restaurant guides or picks of the week. We had our time. Now is the time of the newer restaurants and the younger chefs. However, our boys in the kitchen are cooking marvelous food. If you come in will you tell them that? They do deserve the recognition that we had praised on us for so many years.
Tonight we will dine in our restaurant. We are bringing in two people who literally helped us build the place. They were there for the pulling up of six layers of flooring in the bar (someone received a staple gun as a present at some point in the building's history), helping to lay the brick under the bar and put many layers of paint on smokey old walls. It takes a village to build a restaurant and that is what has made Gino's such a very special place for the last 17 years.