March 13, 2013

Soup to Nuts: A peek through the new Porthole

New owner Ken Macgowan candidly addresses 'the rat issue,' among many other topics, as he discusses the next incarnation of the venerable waterfront eatery.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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With general manager Beth Poitras, left, new Porthole Restaurant & Pub owner Ken Macgowan talks about the planned April 1 opening. Macgowan’s son Garrett, right, stopped by with daughter Aria, 11 months, to check out the improvements.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Guy Fieri left his mark when his Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” visited the old Porthole in 2011. New owner Ken Macgowan said he plans to preserve the image in the restaurant’s newly renovated space.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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"They wanted to make it lunch and nighttime atmosphere," he said, "and I always felt the thing that made the Porthole the Porthole was its brunch. Saturday and Sunday brunch was a hit, and the breakfast for the people working down here. If they're not going to Becky's, they were going to the Porthole."

Macgowan turned to close friend Steve DiMillo, owner of DiMillo's on the Water, for advice on turning the Porthole around. He has hired Poirier to run the kitchen, and the general manager will be Beth Poitras, who is also manager of Casablanca Cruises and has worked in the restaurant business since she was 15.

Macgowan says he's spending about $100,000 on renovations, including rat-proof flooring. Most of the work has been done in the tiny, maze-like kitchen, which has been opened up and now covers about the same square footage as the 76-seat dining room. All of the sheetrock in the kitchen had to be replaced.

"We've basically remodeled and done everything we can kitchen-wise to make it as clean as possible," Macgowan said on a recent tour of the space. "It's basically a new kitchen. We took out the old freezer that had been there for years and was rotten. We've got a new walk-in cooler coming. The flooring was ridiculous down here. It was costly. It's tough to do when you're open. I've had the advantage of being closed for several months and having the time to do it right."

The original flooring -- layers of plywood and subfloors that were not made of pressure-treated wood -- was taken up and replaced with pressure-treated wood, which rats won't touch. On top of that is a new three-inch layer of concrete, which also goes partially up into the walls. Those changes, along with the fact that there's no food around anymore, means "the rats have gone elsewhere," Macgowan said.

Some of the changes were recommended by the restaurant's new pest management company, which will now be conducting regular inspections.

Macgowan said he thinks the city health inspector was right to close the restaurant down when she did.

"She was absolutely right, and I say it to this day: The Porthole should not have passed," he said. "The Porthole should not have been open. It was not a place that I would have deemed safe at that time."

In addition to rat-proofing, there's now a new dishwashing area, as well as large areas for prepping food, refrigeration and storage.

Macgowan also plans to spruce up the deck, mostly by installing better lighting. The large deck can seat a couple of hundred diners.


Macgowan is adding three new booths to the dining room. The Porthole's famous copper-top counter, along with its old metal seats bolted to the floor, will be saved. He estimates the counter is at least 60 years old.

"We're adding a drink rail to it because it's such a skinny bar, and we never had a place to mix drinks before," he said.

The walls will be painted in nautical colors, a light bluish-gray. "We're kind of keeping the retro charm, but with 2013 standards," Poitras said.

As for the food, the restaurant will be serving breakfast and lunch year-round, and will be open seven months out of the year for dinner, serving mostly seafood.

Poirier said the menu will retain "the staples that made the Porthole famous in the first place." That includes the fish fry, the Florentine, the lobsterman's breakfast and the lobster Benedict.

"I'll take those and give them more of a fresh twist," Poirier said. "I want to stick with local, keep all the fish coming in from Portland. My idea with the menu is to keep everything simple and fresh and kind of let the ingredients talk for themselves."

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Additional Photos

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A 1984 view of the Porthole Restaurant.

File photo

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Jesse Poirier will be the chef at the new Porthole Restaurant & Pub. The Portland native has worked at some of the city’s best-known restaurants, including Miyake, Cinque Terre, Vignola and the Front Room Bar & Grill.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer


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