Kann in Portland
The world looks a lot different now than it did in 2019, the year Gregory Gourdet first announced he would open a restaurant of his own.
That restaurant, Kann, was to be a Pacific Northwest haven for the Haitian food Gourdet grew up eating at home in New York City, with sour orange-marinated meats, whole grilled fish and plenty of pikliz, the prized, Scotch Bonnet-spiced pickled cabbage condiment. Only here those dishes would be cooked over live fire, stars of a menu filled with the kind of globally inspired, health-conscious flourishes the “Top Chef” star became known for at downtown Portland’s Departure.
And then came the pandemic, a social justice reckoning and a realignment of priorities for Portland’s restaurant industry. Suddenly, Kann was on hold. A planned 2020 opening moved to 2021, then 2022. Gourdet stayed busy, cooking Haitian food, appearing on “Top Chef’s” first Portland season, releasing a health-focused cookbook and hosting pop-ups, including several months serving customers in yurts at the American Express-sponsored Kann Winter Village. Along the way, he contemplated what an equitable workplace might look like, with fair pay and diverse leadership under the umbrella of Black ownership.
Two years after Gourdet first spoke publicly about his plans, Kann has finally found a home in the close-in Central Eastside Industrial District neighborhood, where he now hopes to open his first restaurant in late spring, The Oregonian/OregonLive has learned.
“I’m actually very grateful (for the delay), because everything that happened in the past two years has helped me hone in on what kind of restaurant Kann needs to be,” Gourdet said. “I really want Kann to be a place that pushes the industry forward.”
When it opens next year, the restaurant will feature two distinct spaces, a main dining room with around 80 seats including a bar and chef’s counter, big windows looking out on the street and an open kitchen with a custom Del Fuego Ironworks hearth and state-of-the-art Electrolux equipment. A small hallway will connect to a second space with its own kitchen and 35 seats used for private events, pop-ups and overflow seating on busy nights. A patio will provide additional seating during warm weather.
A look at Kann’s pre-opening menu reveals dishes drawing both directly and subtly from Haitian cuisine, with taro root fritters, the twice-cooked pork dish griyo and a version of the chicken and dumpling soup that kept us warm during a visit to Kann Winter Village in February. A Little Gem salad comes with a Green Goddess dressing made with epis, the Haitian seasoning base. Traditional dishes are called out by their Haitian Creole names. Whole fish, prawns, jerk chicken and beef ribs will be cooked over live fire on the open hearth. Departure fans won’t be surprised to find a handful of creative desserts, from a charred banana tart to grilled pineapple upside down cake.
“I really want to try to honor these iconic dishes that are eaten by the Haitian diaspora every day,” Gourdet said. “At the same time, I’m very much a farm-to table chef, and I do want to be able to incorporate elements of Oregon and the seasons into the cuisine. There will be Haitian, pan-Caribbean and pan-African flavors, and Southeast Asian flavors as well.”
Kann will have a “robust beverage program,” Gourdet says, with Caribbean-influenced rum cocktails, spices, aromatics and fruits as well as zero proof cocktails, effervescent wines and beers from Black producers.
Gourdet will join a Willamette River-adjacent neighborhood already home to light industry, warehouses and a handful of drinking and dining options, including Clark Lewis, Bunk Bar, Boke Bowl, Wayfinder Beer and Olympia Provisions’ original Southeast Portland restaurant, but without a flagship restaurant along the lines of Kann. Though Gourdet is waiting to reveal the precise address until restaurant construction is further along, he notes that it will be in a “first-generation build” with plenty of ventilation hoods to support wood-fired cooking. The restaurant will have wheelchair accessible seats and two ADA-compliant bathrooms, he said.
“I’ve been working on this since 2018, and I’ve had a business plan since then, so I’ve been looking at a lot of buildings,” Gourdet said. “A lot of them are under new apartment buildings, but this building has some charm and character. For a long time I was really worried about being in a really busy neighborhood, but this is a small enough town that it’s easy enough to get around, and the neighborhood is accessible.”
As with the trial run at Kann Winter Village, Gourdet plans to pay front- and back-of-house workers the same living wage, place women and people of color in key positions and is already “having conversations about what our team care is going to be, and what our human resources will look like in a world where people don’t trust HR.” Kann Winter Village sous chef Varanya Geyoonsawat has accepted a position as Kann’s chef de cuisine, and Gourdet has begun a national search to fill out the rest of the leadership team, including a general manager, bar manager and pastry chef.
“In the past I’ve always been on salary, and I’ve always worked 14 hours a day, and that’s OK, I’m the owner,” Gourdet said. “But I can’t ask that of other people. I need to find that balance of rethinking systems where people can have a work-life balance.”
Gourdet also recognizes the impact his presence as a Black business owner could have in Portland, where the restaurant industry has long been dominated by mostly white chefs and restaurateurs.
“A lot of people have asked me, ‘Why Portland?’” Gourdet said. “And I talk about just the simple challenge of having to actively seek a diverse staff, whereas in any other major city in the country, a diverse staff would show up with résumé in hand. But I love this community, and I know that as a Black-owned business what we’re trying to do is extremely important, and I hope it serves as a way to inspire other communities and other folks that this is all possible.
“I’ve learned a lot in the past two years as well, especially with the reckoning. And it’s all coming together at Kann.”
Kann is shooting to open in May or June of 2022 in the Central Eastside Industrial District, though Gourdet notes his restaurant is one of nearly 850 commercial permits pending approval with the City of Portland. Visit kannrestaurant.com for more information.
— Michael Russell, email@example.com, @tdmrussell
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Kann in Portland