In less than two weeks, Handsome Pizza and Seastar Bakery, a staple restaurant and cafe in the Vernon neighborhood, will close its doors on August 14. The business announced its closure via Instagram on August 3, with co-owners Katia Bezerra-Clark, Will Fain, and Annie Moss each leaving messages of gratitude to the community and staff in the comments. But the post left one question unanswered: why?
“I think the easiest reason is just that it's time, that we're just ready to move on,” Moss told Portland Monthly. “We nurtured the restaurant to a place where things were becoming easier and more sustainable for us as owners, and then the constant pivoting of the pandemic kind of sucked us back in—and I think we just kind of ran out of juice.”
During the pandemic, the restaurant shifted from a to-go only model to outdoor dining and back to its regular indoor and outdoor operations. In late 2020, the restaurant implemented a policy that included an automatic 20 percent gratuity built into its prices, intended to be split evenly among all staff—one of the first restaurants in the last couple years to do so. And Moss spoke out in frustration back in March 2021 about Oregon state policies that left restaurant workers out of the initial vaccine rollout while expanding indoor dining. But she says things are still tough, even as coronavirus-related restrictions lift. “I definitely can feel that the fact that people are out more—[there’s] a kind of re-energizing of the world, but inside our hearts, the three of us weren't really feeling it.”
Until closing day, the bakery will continue with its menu of baked goods including cinnamon rolls, turmeric-poppy-loaded vegan Zena cakes, apricot-cardamom tarts, biscuits, and bread. Some seasonal offerings will also return out-of-season, like the molasses cookies that typically appear in the winter, and mint-parsley herb cakes. There’ll also be the usual pizza and salad offerings.
Moss and Bezerra-Clark worked together at Tabor Bread prior to opening Seastar Bakery, while Fain originally took over Handsome Pizza as a garage space with a wood-fired oven next to a food cart pod. The three of them, along with former co-owner Matt Kedzie, opened Handsome Pizza and Seastar Bakery in its current location (1603 NE Killingsworth St) back in 2015. One employee, Andy Pfandler, started at Handsome/Seastar back in 2015, and has stayed at the restaurant all seven years.
But a return to the food world is uncertain for the three co-owners. “It was time for us to move on,” says Moss. “None of us are lifelong industry professionals. I’m just like, we just don't have the grit to do it forever. …[But] we all have a lot of love for the craft of making food and maybe finding ways to do that that can be integrated into our lives more sustainably and in a less of a grind kind of way.”
Despite the pandemic burnout, Moss speaks fondly of her experience co-owning the restaurant. “The experience that Will and Katia and I had running this restaurant together was like the best thing that's ever happened to me. …Even though we're closing, I think the tone of our whole experience and our feeling about everything is just feeling really lucky, and we had had fun and it was such a learning experience,” she says. “Everything has to end at some point.”