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Clyde Common

The coronavirus has forced one of Portland's most iconic restaurants to reinvent itself.

"I'm closing Clyde as we know it because the writing is pretty clear on the wall," said Nate Tilden, co-owner of Clyde Common, the trendsetting eatery on the first floor of Portland's Ace Hotel. "But, it's going to be born as something new."

In a Monday interview with the Mercury Tilden said there's no way the Clyde Common he opened in 2007 can operate in a post-coronavirus Portland. Clyde Common, which has been closed since mid-March, is know for its large communal dining tables and cozy bar—Tilden calls it "Portland's living room."

But after reviewing a draft of Gov. Kate Brown's proposed plan to reopen businesses following the pandemic—which encourages restaurants to limit occupancy to 25 percent, keep patrons 6 feet apart, and close at 10 pm—Tilden said he was certain Clyde Common would go bankrupt if it tried to reopen without making serious adjustments.

"These restrictions and the continuation of the current state of emergency have essentially ended Clyde Common as a business," wrote Tilden in a Sunday email to Clyde Common's 40 employees.

But it's not dead yet. Tilden's plan is to reopen the space as a tavern with a small market when the state's COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. That means no table service, more pre-packaged goods, and lots of protective gear.

"So you can still have a Jeffrey Morgenthaler cocktail, you'll just have a three-foot-tall sheet of plexiglass between you and the bartender," Tilden told the Mercury.

He sees the place offering snacks from Olympia Provisions (which Tilden co-owns) and other local vendors that hotel guests can take up to their room. Visitors can still order hot meals from the Clyde Common kitchen, but they'll have to be picked up at a counter. The new business model is meant to withstand a potential return of COVID-19 in the fall.

Tilden plans on initially running the market (tentatively called "Clyde Larder") on his own before opening the full tavern and bringing some staffers back on the payroll.

"Decisions like closing Clyde and reorganizing it into a more sustainable business are driven by the desire to have some of our staff come back," he said. "If we don't make a hard decision now, we're going to have to make a harder decision later."

Tilden shared this game plan with Clyde Common employees in his Sunday email, effectively turning their current furlough into a permanent layoff.

In the message, Tilden explained that he had initially tried to avoid layoffs. Unlike many small businesses, Clyde Common successfully secured a loan through the federal Payroll Projection Program (PPP). But, Tilden said, the funds don't cover tips—meaning that staff would be asked to work for one-fourth of their normal paycheck.

"This is totally messed up on our government's part, and I very much hope that PPP rules will be amended," Tilden wrote. He'll instead use the funds to cover rent—and to repay the PPP loan in December.

Tilden told the Mercury that the decision to let his Clyde Common staff go was painful.

"We love our staff, we love our businesses... it's our life," he said. "To have our hands forced in a situation like this by a virus, it's a punch in a gut."

Clyde Common isn't Tilden's only business that will restructure following COVID-19. Tilden also co-owns Spirit of 77, the NE Portland sports bar. He says it could remain closed for up to two years.

"We have no idea when sports will come back," he said. "And we don't know when people will want to sit in a bar next to shouting people, spitting on them."

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In the meantime, Tilden said Spirit of 77 plans on opening up a patio bottle shop for to-go drinks. Tilden's other bars, like Pepe Lo Moko and Richmond Bar, remain temporarily shuttered, while Olympic Provisions has been delivering meats and DIY meal kits to Portlanders.

Unlike some frustrated business owners, Tilden doesn't blame the government's actions for his businesses losses.

"I think Governor Brown and our entire state government has done a fantastic job at handling this crisis," said Tilden. "Jobs and mortgages and bankruptcy pale in comparison to people dying. It is what it is."