One of Portland's most successful restaurant groups is in limbo.
One week ago, founder John Gorham divested from Toro Bravo Inc., the restaurant group representing several iconic Portland dining destinations, amid furor over a string of incendiary Facebook posts he wrote.
Yesterday, The Oregonian reported Toro Bravo Inc. would be dissolving, and that four of the group's properties would shutter permanently: famed Spanish tapas restaurant Toro Bravo, brunch spots Tasty n Alder and Tasty N Daughters, and event space Plaza del Toro.
But Renee Gorham, who took over Toro Bravo Inc. in the wake of her husband's departure, describes a more uncertain future. She has chosen to suspend service at those venues, including takeout and delivery, and lay off much of the staff. But she says she hasn't decided whether the closures will be for good.
She says that decision has less to do with her husband's situation than with a spike in COVID-19 cases that makes operating dine-in restaurants look unsafe.
"The reality is, at this point in time, although the governor has not forbidden restaurants from serving customers, I feel it's coming down the pipeline fairly soon, and I'm in a position to hit pause," Gorham tells WW. "That's the most responsible thing to do."
Gorham says she met with staff yesterday to inform them of the decision to suspend operations, which was motivated by safety concerns given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and a desire to avoid declaring bankruptcy. She believes staffers misconstrued the nature of the announcement.
As of now, she says, Toro Bravo Inc. has not dissolved. However, the other businesses under the group's umbrella—Shalom Y'all, Bless Your Heart Burgers, Mediterranean Exploration Company, Mama Sesame and the as-yet-unopened Y'alla, which are owned by Ron Avni and chef Kasey Mills—have separated from the company.
The news comes after John Gorham—long one of Portland's most high-profile chefs—announced he would be divesting from the restaurant group in the wake of an incident involving a transgender woman of color he publicly accused of vandalism.
On May 22, two catering vans belonging to Toro Bravo Inc. were tagged with graffiti—part of $75,000 worth of damage sustained by the Gorhams' properties going back to March. After one of his Facebook followers tracked down someone believed to be the culprit, Gorham shared identifying information on his own page, writing, "Might be one of the bad guys. Send him your thoughts."
According to a statement from Toro Bravo Inc., Gorham's followers began harassing the poster, who sent screenshots of the exchange to the company. The company claimed Gorham did not know the person was transgender, but both Eater and The Oregonian reported Gorham used a transphobic slur in a private message with the poster.
In a separate statement, Gorham apologized for the incident and said he's struggled with "depression, anxiety and anger" since a 2018 surgery to treat a brain tumor. On June 24, he checked into a psychiatric facility.
Renee Gorham says she does not condone her husband's actions and that the incident "does not represent my values or the values of my company." A "handful" of employees quit after the story broke, she says.
Renee Gorham says she is seeking counsel on what steps to take next. For now, Plaza del Toro, the group's Northwest Portland test kitchen and event space, will remain open until the company fulfills the contractual obligations of its Feed It Forward program, which has been working with nonprofits during the pandemic to help feed those experiencing food insecurity.