Pastrami Powerhouse Kenny & Zuke’s Is Permanently Closing Its Last Deli

“Since the pandemic, customers’ habits have changed—people have stopped going out as often.”

Ken Gordon with his signature sandwich in 2006. (Cameron Browne)

It’s last call for one of Portland’s best-known pastrami houses.

Nearly one year after Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen crossed the river to set up shop, the longtime Portland dining staple is closing. The business announced the news on its Facebook page Nov. 18.

“It’s been a long ride, sometimes joyful, often painful,” the post from owner and chef Ken Gordon stated. “I’ve tried my best to make it work, but eventually that wasn’t enough. Ultimately, it’s a risky business with never a guarantee of success.”

Though for more than a decade, diners could pretty much always count on Kenny & Zuke’s at 1038 SW Harvey Milk St. as their source for meatball heroes, pastrami Reubens and roast pork grinders. The deli quickly grew in popularity, was featured on several TV shows like Man Finds Food and Food Paradise, and for years was considered one of the top sandwich restaurants in town, and expanded to a second location on Northwest Thurman Street.

A hiccup came in late 2019 when the company’s LLC filed for Chapter 11 reorganization after a civil suit by distributor Performance Food Group alleged that Kenny & Zuke’s owed it more than $184,000. But at the time, Gordon told WW that the deli was “absolutely in no danger of closing or curtailing operations in any way.”

Of course, months later, the pandemic temporarily shut down every restaurant—but Kenny & Zuke’s survived that phase along with a transformed downtown with less foot traffic, virtually no hungry office workers, and increased homeless camping.

However, Gordon chose not to renew a lease at the shop in the city’s core in December 2022 and moved to the other side of town at 3808 N Williams Ave., opening less than a month later on Jan. 1. In addition to the lease being up, Gordon said that he needed to downsize due to the current economics of the hospitality industry.

When contacted about factors that led to the closure of the new location, Gordon tells WW that he didn’t think it was the move or crime—a problem cited by other restaurateurs. Instead, it just came down to altered consumer behavior.

“Mostly, it was a level of business that wasn’t what I expected,” Gordon says. “Since the pandemic, customers’ habits have changed—people have stopped going out as often, and mostly did takeout. Which we did as well, but in competition with everyone else. We did some business, but still lost money, and can’t afford to keep doing that. It got harder and harder to do that after 16 years.”

Gordon says he’ll always have a role in the kitchen—though how and where aren’t clear at this point.

“I’ll still cook in one way or another as I still love it after 46 years in this business,” he adds, “but only in a way where I can make a profit, which likely won’t be by starting a new restaurant. It’s sad, but in many ways a relief.”

Customers have until Nov. 26 to order a Kenny & Zuke’s classic: pastrami on rye.

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