Portland restaurant Little Giant has been sold to Gin & Luck, a national hospitality group best known for the Death & Co cocktail bars in New York, Denver and Los Angeles.

That group has not yet announced its plans for the space in Portland’s West End, and news of the sale apparently came as a surprise to Little Giant employees, who had been on a break since Monday for what owner Ian Malin had said was for “R + R.”

Comments on Instagram, some of which later disappeared, in response to the restaurant’s post about the sale, claimed employees found out they were out of a job on the social media platform. But Malin said Wednesday that he notified the restaurant’s 25 employees by email and has offered them two weeks’ severance pay at the rate of $18 an hour for 30 hours each week, “which is more than is required. Nothing is required. I did what I thought was the right thing to do.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if any of the commenters were employees of the restaurant, and none contacted through Instagram agreed to interviews Wednesday.

“It’s a bit challenging to be treated so horribly, but I get it,” Malin added, saying he understands emotions are high.

The new owner has ties to Portland. Gin & Luck partner and chief operating officer Alex Day has lived here for over two years. Day said when he moved here he had no intention of opening a restaurant or bar in town, but as he got to know the community, “some opportunities arose. They didn’t work out, but that scratched the itch. As you emotionally allow yourself to open that door, it became more of an idea.

“A lot of the last year was survival,” Day continued. “Also a lot of the last year was planning what we want to do, asking ourselves some big questions about what we want to be. Opening in Portland is a manifestation of that.”

According to a news release, the Gin & Luck team will release more details about its plans for the space “in the coming weeks.” Day hinted that the business will have both a cocktail and culinary component.

Malin was emphatic that the sale had nothing to do with the pandemic.

“I want to be very clear. It’s the outcome of what I feel is a very successful evolution of Little Giant,” he said. Malin said he’d accomplished everything he set out to do when he and Hunt + Alpine proprietors Briana and Andrew Volk opened the restaurant in 2017. Malin and his wife, Kate Malin, bought out the Volks in 2019.

Little Giant served a sophisticated menu of contemporary American food in a spare, relaxed but sophisticated setting; a next-door space was sometimes a market and sometimes a cafe. Malin, who by day is the chief financial officer of a London-based aviation company, will retain ownership of the Little Giant building, but has sold the assets of the business to Gin & Luck, which will lease the space from him.

“For me, it’s very appealing because I am selling to someone who, if not nationally renowned, is world renowned. It’s a validation of all the success we achieved. … It’s very exciting to see somebody like that come into Portland and chose the Little Giant space. It’s great for the neighborhood. It’s great for Portland.”

The Gin & Luck Hospitality Group grew out of the success of Death and Co, originally a single cocktail bar in New York that’s often been described as “an institution.” According to the news release, the hospitality company also “has an expansive portfolio of global consulting work spanning a decade and half.” In 2016, the New York Times called the group’s original Death & Co spot “the seminal cocktail bar in the East Village,” while Epicurious headlined its 2014 story about the company’s book (“Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails”) as “The Drinks Book You Need to Buy.”


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