Jan 29, 2024 - Food and Drink

Oregon restaurants show strength in post-COVID recovery

Data: Yelp; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Yelp; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of new restaurant listings in the Portland metro area rose 16% last year from 2019, according to new Yelp data shared with Axios.

Why it matters: Not only did the pandemic cripple and close hundreds of restaurants across Oregon, but supply chain issues, labor shortages and convoluted permitting processes have all emerged as challenges prospective owners have to now face.

But after a brutal stretch, Portland's restaurant industry "is very much in a state of rebirth," Gregory Gourdet, James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Kann, told Axios.

By the numbers: 683 restaurants were newly listed on Yelp in 2023 in the Portland metro area, compared with 589 in 2019.

  • New businesses overall in the region rose 11% from 2019, making 2023 the first year of positive growth Rose City has seen in nearly five years.

What's happening: Portland really dug its heels into the DIY food culture it's known for as the industry crawled its way to recovery, Gourdet said, stating his optimism.

  • The variety of new restaurant pop-ups, food carts and chef residencies shows the perseverance of "the diverse underbelly of the culinary scene here," he said.

It's still hard, though. Gourdet said not only are local suppliers working with slimmer margins and less backstock than before, but the price of food has gone up significantly with inflation.

  • The city's permitting process is also a drag and can stall construction for weeks.
  • "That can really make or break people, waiting for the right permit to go through as you're fighting the clock to open with only a specific amount of money," Gourdet, who opened Kann in 2022, added.
New restaurants on Yelp per 100k people, 2023
Data: Yelp; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The big picture: Oregon was one of the top states on Yelp's nationwide list, with 25 new restaurants for every 100,000 residents. In comparison, New York state had about 22.

  • For the first time, every U.S. state surpassed its pre-pandemic levels of new business openings.

The other side: The Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon (IRAO) doesn't consider the crowd review site's data reflective of small-business growth in the state.

  • "When businesses like Chipotle announced that it planned to open 7,000 stores and those stores appear on Yelp, you're not accurately representing how hard it is for someone without a huge corporate machine behind them to open a restaurant," the group told Axios via an emailed statement.

What we're watching: The state's crop of restaurant and bar owners — newbies and veterans — are still reeling from the week-long ice storm that hit earlier this month.

  • IRAO is asking lawmakers to beef up road maintenance efforts during extreme weather events — i.e. slow plows and deicers — that are "essential to prevent closures that directly impact the operations of our businesses."
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