Tanuki owner and chef Janice "Janis" Martin has always insisted her shop is not a restaurant.
Now we know why.
"As I begged a prominent local paper," wrote Martin on her Facebook page, "to not review us as a restaurant until we finished the updates necessary to comply with relevent regulations to no avail, it became impossible. So we've been shutting down abruptly when necessary and trying to adjust."
What do regulations have to do with it? It turns out Tanuki isn't licensed as a restaurant. It's licensed as a convenience store.
"We do not inspect that location," said Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, spokesperson for Multnomah County Public Health, which typically licenses food service establishments. "It is very rare that any kind of bar or restaurant would not have a license."
Tanuki's food is licensed instead by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. That license only applies if Tanuki is making more than half its proceeds from retail, not prepared food.
"If most of their business comes from the restaurant," says Department of Agriculture spokesman Bruce Pokarney, "they get inspected by Public Health."
Tanuki was due for their latest Department of Agriculture inspection Wednesday, March 20. When inspectors arrived, however, they found it closed.
"We didn't know they were closed on Wednesdays," Pokarney said. The bar's website lists their hours as 5 pm Tuesday-Saturday.
Tanuki sells retail sake from its premises. However, if restaurant revenues outstrip retail revenues, the bar would need to be relicensed and inspected by Multnomah County Public Health.
"For years I have tried to exist as a sake shop with tasty sake drinking food," Martin wrote on her Facebook, "and to comply with regulations that insist I choose to be a single easily categorizable thing. As we have received more and more reviews declaring us a restaurant, followed by restaurant customers with foodie expectations, this has become very difficult to do."
Martin did not immediately respond to request for comment.
UPDATE 4:16 pm: Tanuki owner Janis Martin spoke with Willamette Week about her current licensing situation.
Martin says she refuses to turn her sake shop into a full-fledged restaurant—“I never wanted to have a restaurant,” she says—and that up until January of this year she had been within her requirements for classing Tanuki as a sake and retail shop. The bar can't become a restaurant, she says, because it has only two hot plates and no full kitchen.
As of now, Martin says, Tanuki will continue serving its signature small plates but will starkly limit the number of people that the bar will seat for food. The Department of Agriculture is “giving me a grace period, so we’re just going to refuse to seat people… We’re going to meet our goals and that’ll be that.”
“My spat with the Oregonian,” said Martin, “was, ‘You’re going to put out this review of us on the very day we’re going to stop seating so many people. It’s a disservice to us and a disservice to your readers.’”
Tanuki will be open for business Friday night.