River Pig Saloon owner Ramzy Hattar dives headfirst into the fray. Earlier this summer, in the midst of a national debate about immigration, a new message appeared at the bottom of his pub’s receipts: “IMMIGRANTS MAKE AMERICA GREAT AS WELL! THEY ALSO COOKED YOUR FOOD!”
Haven’t heard of Hattar? Before he began expanding his bar empire recently—he opened a second River Pig in Bend in May and bought Taylor’s, the Eugene college bar featured in Animal House—Hattar was best known for a pair of public spats. He tangled in the courts with onetime food-preneur partners ChefStable, and made the evening news for knocking out a knife-wielding menacer in front of his Pearl District saloon midday.
“This guy pulled a knife on this older couple walking with their grandchildren,” he recalls. “He started yelling at them, and he wouldn’t let them pass. I told him to get the fuck out of here.”
That’s when things went south—for the man with the knife. He chased Hattar around a car, but the saloon keeper was able to reach inside his pickup. “I’d just come back from spring break with my son and cousin, and we’d been skeet shooting. So there was a 12-gauge in the cab. I knocked him out with the butt end.”
It was not, as they say, Ramzy Hattar’s first rodeo.
Growing up in California, he says, he and his many cousins had to frequently fight back to protect one another from bullies who picked on them for their Jordanian and Greek Orthodox heritages. Along with his brawling background, he speaks three languages fluently (English, Greek, and Arabic) and two passably (Russian and, less so, German). He used these skills to advantage after graduating from the University of Oregon in 2000 with a degree in international relations, going to work for a company that supplied communications systems for US Marines and Special Forces, working abroad in the days leading up to 9/11.
That job took Hattar to Germany. He was there when the Twin Towers fell; he spent the next decade working in Iraq and Dubai as well as Germany, where he also played for Heidelberger, one of the country’s top rugby clubs. When he returned to the States in 2007, he was at a loss as to what to do next. He’d grown up in restaurants—his aunts and uncles ran them, and his mother opened Arabi, a Middle Eastern restaurant in San Francisco’s business district—but he also watched as his family struggled to make them work. So he dipped his toe into the water as an investor or part owner (at Oven and Shaker, Lardo, and Kachka) before he finally decided to go all in with River Pig. His growing bar portfolio gives him a platform to support the things he cares about most: the environment, athletics, and the dignity of marginalized communities. Whatever message you find at the bottom of your next receipt, you’ll know Hattar means it.