Dream of Lents Town Center’s revival fades, as café closes

Learn why, although Le Sorelle Café was packed with patrons on this occasion, the owner called it quits – less than two years after this Italian-themed eatery opened …

Le Sorelle Café, a street-level business, in the Assurety Northwest building in the Lents Neighborhood, prepares to close for the night – and forever.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
When Le Sorelle Café opened in the new Assurety Northwest building in the Lents Neighborhood about two years ago, many people saw this new bistro-styled restaurant as a symbol of promise that the Lents Town Center concept was finally moving forward.

But, on February 26, the patrons who entered the café’s doors, at 8931 SE Foster Road, learned they were there for the last time.

“We’ve been open for 21 months,” sighed proprietor Kelly S. Brouner. “We just made it 21 months. And, here we are, on closing day. But, I must say, it’s a good closing day. Look how many people came to support us! It’s incredible.”

On the last night in business, the owners, workers and friends of Le Sorelle Café gathered for one last time.

Festive atmosphere prevails
Not wanting to simply lock the doors, Brouner said she decided to throw a “Grand Good-bye Celebration”, which was attended by about 300 customers and friends. “All of these people who came by supported while we’re open, but they couldn’t come in every day; it’s just too expensive to dine out all of the time,” she observed. “The people who showed up tonight are a good representation of our customer base.”

At times, the café was standing-room-only, as cheerful patrons sampled food prepared by the kitchen staff and the Culinary Creations chef, Michelle Smith, who helped develop the menu. “I’m glad to see so many people having a good time. We got good support from our regulars, and I’m glad we can thank them tonight, as we say goodbye,” said Brouner.

Simone Soto sits with her mom, Jennifer, who holds baby Ellia – they’re joined by visiting grandmother Margaret Ferguson.

Sitting in an overstuffed chair, along with her daughter and grandkids, Margaret Ferguson told us she was visiting from Grande Island, Nebraska. “I came to Portland for the birth of my grandbaby, and found this café. Their hospitality and food is in great.  Now that they’re closing, it’s really sad. I’m going to be here for at least another week; I don’t know where I’m going to go.”

Family acts on ‘promise’ of urban renewal
Brouner said she’d not been involved in the restaurant business before opening Le Sorelle (Italian for The Sisters) with her sister, Jami Murrain. “My father was the general contractor for the Assurety Northwest. It was an opportunity laid out before us, and we thought we could make it work. And, to an extent, we made it work.”

The opportunity to which Brouner referred, she eplained, was the “promise” that urban renewal in the Lents Town Center would bring a new vitality to this area of outer East Portland.

“Actually, it seems to be more a promise, than follow-through,” Brouner reflected. “And, the downturn in the economy affects everybody. I get that. But when you’re here for 21 months trying to cope with the reality of running a business – hoping that the promise of revitalization in this area would come true – well, it really makes it really tough when it doesn’t.”

Faces taxing questions
Having not yet finished their taxes for 2009, Brouner confided that she was apprehensive about the impact of recently-passed Measures 66 and 67.

“In the very beginning, I would’ve voted ‘yes’ for them,” Brouner said. “But when we started getting into the detail, I got really concerned. Because the taxes are retroactive, it’s going to be really hard for small businesses. This will hurt us even more.”

Posing for a “team photo” is Robin Parker, Kelly Brouner, Frank Brouner, Michelle Smith, Jami Murrain, Brandon Kinkade, and Brian McGranahan.

Her future is uncertain, Brouner said. “I’ll keep the espresso machine and a couple of coffee grinders. Maybe we’ll pop up somewhere around town as little coffee shop or a drive-through venue. We’re definitely considering a catering business. But for now, I’m going to be working at a McMenamin’s for a while to get my personal debts back in order.”

Owner remains thankful
As the crowd thinned out on that final night, Brouner, her employees, and her family and friends started to clean up. Maintaining her typical upbeat attitude, she said, “I’d like to thank our customers so much, for their backing. We’ve had incredible support from the community – all the people who came in here just to say ‘we want local businesses to survive’ – it’s unbelievable.

“From the guy who only ordered one coffee – but he came in every single day, and gotsa glass of wine and a cup of soup – they’ve all been wonderful. We sincerely thank you.”

She paused for a moment and added, “I also thank my family and friends who helped so much – many of them donating their time and their effort and hard work – to try to make this go.”

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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