Just about two months after Chez José served what were supposed to be its last customers, something of a restaurant industry/early Christmas miracle will resurrect the longtime Burlingame neighborhood business.
Urban Restaurant Group, owners of popular spots like Brix Tavern, Bartini and Swine Moonshine & Whiskey Bar, has taken over the Mexican eatery and should be reopening its doors in approximately two weeks.
The company’s owners, Mark and Carla Byrum, like many other Portlanders, had been dining at Chez José for more than two decades. However, unlike most of those regulars, the two had the resources and background to do something about the closure once they heard the news, and jumped in to purchase the space.
Former Chez José operators Howie Schechter and Tom Midrano Jr. announced in late September via a subscriber email that they would be closing the 35-year-old restaurant the following month.
The two shared that they had been in the process of transitioning to retirement for the past six months and had been actively looking for someone to purchase the restaurant, located at 8502-A SW Terwilliger Blvd., during that time. However, their search had not been successful. Schechter and Midrano Jr. cited ongoing industry challenges.
“We have been operating with the bare minimum kitchen staffing for the last six months and chose to end the restaurant on our terms rather than an abrupt ending due to lack of staff,” the letter stated. “This affords us an opportunity to celebrate with our customers and staff, as is appropriate given our wonderful run of serving the city of Portland for the last 35 1/2 years.”
Schechter and Midrano Jr. opened Chez José in 1987 on what they described as a “shoestring budget.” Over the years, the restaurant built up a solid reputation in the neighborhood, which undoubtedly helped them survive a devastating fire in 2001 that began in neighboring Burlingame Grocery. The owner of that store, Tom Calkins, was convicted of one charge of arson two years later.
Decades later, Chez José survived yet another incredibly difficult challenge: COVID and the series of closures and service restrictions that followed. However, an upended labor market and disruption in the hospitality industry ultimately caused it to fold this fall.
Fortunately for loyal customers and curious diners who never got the chance to eat there, the closure was short. Urban Restaurant Group doesn’t plan to change a thing, which includes the menu, staff and name of the establishment.