Caprial and John’s Kitchen – R.I.P.

Caprial and John Pence

Caprial and John Pence

UPDATED: Turns out Caprial’s filed bankruptcy in 2006, but had problems making their repayment plan. Interesting article in Oregon live

The rumor has been going around for the last year: Caprial & John’s Kitchen wasn’t going to make it. I’ve heard it so many times I should have written this months ago and put it on hold. Now, according to Byron Beck, the restaurant has washed its last plate.

Originally opening in 1992, Caprial & John’s was once a big deal. I heard about it before I ever moved to Portland, and it was one of the first places I dined. Back then, the food was pretty good, Caprial usually worked the front desk, John kept the kitchen running and the service was always top-notch. With her yearly television cooking shows, Caprial’s books flew off the shelves; I still have some favorite recipes from them that I use to this day.

Unfortunately, over the years the pleasant dining experience slowly began to slide. John and Caprial seemed to disappear from the restaurant. The food quality went down, as the prices went up. I think they made the mistake relying on the tourist dollar to keep the restaurant going, while they busied themselves with family and other ventures. Eventually, the food was so poor and yet expensive, I stopped going.

Finally, the economic problems seemed to catch up with them. The breathless descriptions in airline magazines no longer brought in tourists, and the locals had lost their interest. A few desperate measures were taken over the last year, but, in the end, weren’t enough to save this dying restaurant.

Even though I haven’t been for years, I’m sorry to see them close. It is one of the memories of my early ties to Portland. I wish them well and their employees well.

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. polarwanderer says

    I thought it closed years ago. It certainly became irrelevant years ago when the cooking went over a cliff. My fond memories of the place are from the mid-90s.

  2. KAB says

    When we lived in Sellwood, the Westmoreland Bistro (where Caprial’s would eventually open) was a favorite neighborhood restaurant. When the Pence’s took over it became much more upscale and less family-friendly, but we (grudgingly, I admit) came to like the food, though only occasionally. When I heard a year ago that they were revamping the menu to win back neighborhood support, I figured it might be on the way out. Thanks for the bulletin.

  3. DFWM says

    My family and I also loved Westmoreland Bistro and agree that when it became Caprial’s it just “lost” what was so wonderful about the place, which was that it was very oriented to the neighborhood.

  4. Adam says

    I hate to see any restaurant fail, but the food here really was pedestrian. Here’s hoping something fantastic fills the void.

  5. foodgems says

    That is a pretty challenging location and who ever thinks about taking it should brace themselves for tough years when the Sellwood Bridge construction finally begins. It will be brutal to live through that.

    • Glerg says

      It is a challenging location, however the plan for the Sellwood bridge construction, which is scheduled to begin in ’11, allows for it to remain open during the whole process.

      • says

        If memory serves correct 2006 was the rebuild of the Bybee St. overpass to Eastmoreland. That could have assisted in the need to file bankrupsy as it cut off access to customers with lots of dough. I used to live right on SE 17th there and many retailers there struggled during the time of that closure. I think foodgems comments are germain since even the thought of bridge issues causing delays and misinformation of closures will make the Lake O. and other customers on the west side think twice,

        Best of luck to Caprial & John.

        • zumpie says

          NO the bridge rebuilding started in 2003–and was long completed by 2006. If anything, a 2004 bankruptcy would’ve coincided with the bridge.

  6. Rob says

    Moving into Portland/Sellwood 6 years ago, it sounds like we didn’t get to see the restaurant during its hey-day. Went there a few times and, though I really wanted to like it, always came away, “Meh”. Had one very memorable meal though: part of the visiting chef series (is that still on?) with Jacques Pepin. Was incredible meeting him after being so inspired by his show for so many years.

    Also liked their store and was a complete vulture when it closed. Use at least one of those knifes every day :).

    Sorry to see it go and I wish them well, but this neighborhood so needs a good restaurant that serves “everyday” food at “everyday” prices. More like La Buca or Savoy.

    • CO says

      funny, I was at that dinner with Jacques Pepin as well! I do not recall much of the food(that might say more than I could come up with anyways!) but I do remember Him being extremely gracious and easy to talk to. Still have the signed cookbook.
      That being said, I think the one aspect no one has really hit on here is the possibility that it was less Caprial’s falling off, as it was their peers surpassing them by leaps and bounds. Somewhat analogous to the world record holder of the 100meter dash from 1948 would not stand a chance against Usain Bolt!

  7. says

    I think Caprial’s had a few problems – They seemed to be resting on their laurels from a time when there were many less “exciting” dining options in Portland and thus less competition; they seemed stuck in the mid-1990s with their hodge-podge NW, Asian, Mediterranean, whatever whim menu; and they seem like their attentions were diverted to their TV show. And frankly, the food went from good quality to inconsistent and mediocre.

    I always hate to see a small neighborhood business close, but in this case Portland’s “old guard” restaurants (you know the others) need to step up their game and get with the times and the competition.

  8. culinary kitten says

    Who knows? Maybe this is just the breath of fresh air they need creatively… I wouldn’t count this couple down for long. They had been furiously working for years at what they had established, it doesn’t seem that they had taken a moment to look up and outward to see what was happening in the world around them. I’ll bet this is ultimately a freeing move. I wish them all the best, and can’t wait to see what they do next! :)

    P

  9. Lisa T says

    My only experience with Caprial and John’s was through a really fun cooking demonstration/meal I bought my mom for Christmas. It was held in the back of the restaurant and I must thank them for some great tips on making good risotto. They are such a lovely warm couple and I wish them the very best.

  10. ARTHEEN says

    FIRST OF ALL..ARE YOU REALLY CALLED SUCH A GOOFY NAME AS THE “FOOD DUDE”?
    YOU NEED TO GROW UP A LITTLE. I WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT TO ALL THE DUMB
    NEIGHBORHOOD PEOPLE ALL THE GOOD THAT JOHN AND CAPPY BROUGHT TO THE CITY
    AND THE NEIGHBORHOOD! THEY HAVE SPENT THEIR YEARS DOING CHARITIES AND OTHER
    FUNCTIONS TO BENIFIT OUR CITY. THEY ARE EXCELLENT CHEFS AND REALLY
    WONDERFUL PEOPLE..THEIR ONLY PROBLEM WAS THEY DID NOT KISS UP TO THE
    PRESS…SAD, THE OREGONIAN SHOULD HANG IT’S HEAD IN SHAME. AND YOU MIGHT
    BE SURPRISED AT THE DIFFERENT PLACES THAT HAVE USED CHAPT.13 TO REORGANIZE..
    THAT WHAT IT IS FOR..NO SHAME IN IT AT ALL.
    I WILL NEVER LOOK AT YOUR BLOG AGAIN..I HOPE THE NEIGHBORHOOD GETS
    A TATOO PARLOR.

    • Food Dude says

      Dear Artheen,
      Do you not realize it is bad manners to SHOUT? No wonder Caprial’s went under with loud people like yourself screaming in the dining room. If you scream in here again, you will be banned, rather than allowed in, (for the sole purpose of entertainment value).

      I think a tattoo (corrected your spelling – hope you don’t mind) parlor is an excellent idea, especially if the space could be sub-divided into a porn video store. Thanks for putting the suggestion out there!

      Best regards,
      FOOD DUDE

      • A says

        Blog are ridiculously stupid. Anybody can run a blog. Look my ass started a blog and can run a restaurant better than you can criticize one. I’ll call my ass’s blog the Food Dood.

        Who here has run a restarant for 17 years? anyone. bueller?

        They helped give NW food a name. 20 years ago there was Seattle, we need to stop taring ourselves down and building portland up. Jeesus you guys need a story don’t you. OH AND IF YOU DIDNT SEE THEY WERE TRYING TO SELL THE RESTAURANT, CLOSING THE RESTAURANT ISNT CAUSE OF THE ECONOMY ITS CAUSE THEY CHOSE TO…

        When Julia Childs came to Portland where did she go to eat?? hmmm???

        P.S. my ass has his first blog post and its called FOOD DUDE RIP his arrogance got the best of himself when he reached thru the mirror to jerk his reflection off and died….

        • zumpie says

          Wow! Angry much? If you don’t like what’s being written, don’t read it. There’s nothing wrong with a blog for discussing and critiquing restaurants (or anything else for that matter).

        • J&J says

          Wow… I assume the “A” stands for arrogant… or is it anger? Either way, what an asinine and angry post. Caprial’s was a concept that lived well past its time. There’s no question that it helped set the course for restaurants in Portland in its early days and received lots of well earned praise. But like many other restaurants, as the food scene in PDX matured, the rest of the pack pretty well blew past them. They simply weren’t able to keep up and they survived on their earlier reputation. There’s no shame in that, necessarily — they have plenty of company. But it was well past their time and the end was inevitable.

          Meanwhile, you might up your meds a bit and start working on those anger issues.

        • pdxyogi says

          Her name was “Julia Child”. Not that you ever read a page of hers or have cooked her recipes. No, all you know of her is to namedrop, and even that you can’t get right.

          So what you are saying is that if I have never directed a play, written a novel, or run a restaurant, I have no right to say a single negative word about those creations? Seriously? You have just eliminated 99.96% of all critics, bloggers, posters on boards, and the general public at large.

          You write like an angry half-literate lunatic. My ten-year-old niece writes stuff that is 100 times more cogent, readable, standard English, and comprehensible than your drivel. So no, I won’t be reading your blog. Good luck though!

          • qv says

            A,

            If you feel a restaurant or restaurant owners you like are being torn down or treated unfairly it would be more productive to state a counter opinion of what you believe are the good points of the place/people in question. Or at least in grammatical, properly spelled English explain why you feel the person is wrong.

            Many restaurant owners are actually dismayed when a fan of theirs goes off their meds for a night and starts spewing vitriol on their behalf because for better or worse, the ranting of their fans becomes associated with their business.

            I can’t imagine Caprial and John would be pleased by your post. They closed one business and are starting fresh with another from what I hear. Good for them.

          • Food Dude says

            I SO WANT TO TELL YOU ALL WHO “A” IS, I’M BURSTING AT THE SEAMS. However, In accordance with my own standards printed on this site, I can’t.

            BURSTING!

    • pdxyogi says

      Artheen: I see. So “all the dumb neighborhood people” weren’t good enough for and did not show proper appreciation or pay enough homage to John & Caprial? And that’s why they closed? And blame the media. Works for me. Just because they did good things (spelled “benefits”) for the community does not mean their place didn’t deserve to close.
      By evidence of your idiotic and ill-mannered all-caps post, the only “dumb & goofy” presence here is yours.

  11. says

    I read thru the story and am wishing them well. Also glad to hear that they are remaining strong and staying togehter. Being married I understand that marriage itself is tough enough, adding external financial stress makes it even harder. Business is what it is – business. Sometimes you come ahead, and sometimes you don’t. What I’m seeing is two people that worked very hard, and now everything they worked for is gone. I witness some people out there that might take this oppurtunity to criticize what they could do and what mistakes they’ve made. But until one’s been thru what they are going thru, please please take a moment and send good wishes. That’s what I’m doing.

  12. guy says

    We thought they got to be very arrogant once John joined the show. We stopped watching once the dishes became very repetitive and they spent almost half the show advertising Oregon businesses. When I watch a cooking show I want to watch cooking not their kids or other stupid stuff. Whan a TV show splits from the hosts to “staged nodding audience,” you know it’s on the way out!

  13. 2Ply says

    When I first moved to Westmoreland, over 15 years ago, I would eat at Caprial’s Bistro 2-3 times per week for lunch. I always ordered the same thing, a soup and salad combo for about $6.00 (no kidding). The soup was different everyday, and it was consistently amazing, thanks to Mark Dowers who is an absolute wizard when it comes to soup. As a testament to the restaurant’s souptastic-ness, back in ’98 Caprial and Mark published a cookbook of soups and sandwiches.
    When I began frequenting Caprial’s it was 1/3 the size of its most recent footprint, and I had no idea who Caprial was, and it took several months before I discovered that she had her own PBS cooking show. I was fairly surprised when I realized it, because to me, the place just seemed like a cozy neighborhood spot without pretense. When the restaurant expanded, and Mark was no longer making the soup for lunch, I stopped going. He became the chef at dinner, and frankly the dinner prices were too high.
    As Rob mentions above, their short-lived kitchen store was a welcome addition to the neighborhood, but alas, it went away when they stopped filming their show there. And I second his vote for good, inexpensive food options in Sellwood. The closest thing to that right now, is the Garden State food cart.
    So, I am saddened to hear about this restaurant’s demise, but for me it died a long time ago when they expanded, and Mr. Dowers’ soup and salad lunch was no longer available.
    Perhaps there is a silver lining here for me: if anyone knows where Mark will be cooking next I’ll happily show up, soup spoon in hand.

  14. Karen says

    I guess I’m in the minority, but Caprial’s was one of my most favorite restaurants in Portland. Very sad to see them close.

  15. qv says

    “I SO WANT TO TELL YOU ALL WHO “A” IS, I’M BURSTING AT THE SEAMS. However, In accordance with my own standards printed on this site, I can’t.”

    No one suspects the butterfly, Dood.

  16. Aaa says

    I love how people have to beat up on restaurants who defined Portland. Pulled them from the pack of Seattle. Now all this trendy dirty hipster food will take over. From what I understand the economy played a smaller role then you would have wished, they’d been planning on something new for years.
    Having a hit tv show that got more viewers than their non chef gimmick machine food network counterparts. So I guess more ppl liked them then the 20 ppl who’s myspace’s must of crashed so they had to be shallow and ignorrant somewhere.
    Why can’t people just be happy? They never hurt anyone and all they wanted to do was cook good food in Portland, but Portland is too far it’s own ass when it comes to food. I’m tired of dirty places that just make sandwhiches or restaurants that have no seating winning restaurant of the year. Get off your high horse and just say it was good while it lasted. Come on there was way worse and more expensive food out there. Gino’s up the street was more expensive with worse ingriedents! Get a grip.

  17. Likes To Eat says

    It is sad to see a local restaurant close no matter what the reason. Living in the SE there are many fine restaurants, Caprial’s (and I know the name was changed) was always a favorite. My partner had a wonderful New Years Eve dinner there the food and service were top notch. I will miss John and Cappy, I hope to run into them at the market.

  18. says

    Cappy & John were customers of ours for over 12 years, using our goats cheese every week, year round…. supporting us even in winter when the cash flow is scary. Through their show on PBS and their cooking classes, they have heaped liberal praise on us for our cheese and I can’t count the people who have sought us out at Farmer’s Markets, telling us of the glowing compliments given us by Cappy.

    We will miss them very much. Through all of the years they have been so easy to deal with, so warm and friendly, never too busy to stop and ask how the goats are doing, how the farm is doing, how are WE doing. A real class act and I hope that they resurface into the culinary life of Portland soon.

  19. murph says

    For those haters out there, I have to comment about Caprial and John personally. I worked for them at the cooking school for a year or so. I had very little cooking experience, but wanted to get more. They welcomed me with open arms. I’m sorry for their business troubles, but they are two funny and decent people who did their best, and did well, for 17 years. We should all be so lucky.

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