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One of Portland’s Buzziest New Restaurants Opened and Closed the Same Week—but the Owners Aren’t About to Give Up

The shift from plates and tables to boxes and foil hasn’t dampened the scope of Shaun King’s cooking.

For Shaun and Jamie King, the worry started on opening night.

Bar King, the couple's much-anticipated Buckman neighborhood restaurant, began service March 9—the week the coronavirus, in Oregon, went from peripheral threat to life-disrupting reality. It was two days before the outbreak was officially declared a global pandemic, and a week before Gov. Kate Brown shut down every bar and restaurant in the state.

But the Kings had an inclination of what was coming.

"One of our major investors lives in France," says Jamie King. "He told us, 'I feel like this is a bigger deal than what we think it is.'"

That first night, customers packed the dining room—the converted auto garage vacated by Ken Forkish's Trifecta Tavern late last year—clamoring for chef Shaun King's Momofuku-trained Asian fusion. By the weekend, reservations dwindled to two parties. On Monday, the Kings called a meeting, and tearfully laid off their entire staff.

"I spent the first three days crying," Shaun King says. "I told myself on the fourth day, 'I'm not crying anymore. I'm pushing forward.'"

Like many food-focused businesses over the past week, Bar King has pivoted to a takeout model, taking orders through direct messages on Instagram for next-day pickup and walking them out to customers waiting on the sidewalk.

Related: The Top Nine Places to Get Takeout and Delivery This Week.

But the shift from plates and tables to boxes and foil hasn't dampened the scope of King's cooking.

Though the rotating menu features only two items per day—cooked entirely by King himself—meals have so far included a rack of spicy pork ribs, whole barbecue chicken and dry-aged duck, with sides of potato salad, kimchi and miso chocolate chip cookies, and tofu stew served in big enough quantities to freeze.

"The idea is, they're either large enough to feed a whole family," Jamie King says, "or large enough that if you're a solo diner, you don't have to leave the house to eat again and again."

The Kings fully intend to still be around whenever this is all over. For that reason, nothing is allowed to go to waste. They're saving shrimp shells to turn into oil and avocado pits to convert into orgeat syrup for when they can eventually make mai-tais again. Shaun King even preserves the water he uses to wash rice every morning—the subtle starchiness makes the liquid ideal for congee.

"I'm getting apocalyptic here," King says, "but in a positive way."

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One of Portland's Buzziest New Restaurants Opened and Closed the Same Week—but the Owners Aren't About to Give Up