PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland’s food and drink industry was rocked by COVID-19, leading many city-defining bars and restaurants to close their doors for good. But amidst the shutdowns brought on by the pandemic, the Rose City’s restaurant scene still has its fair share of success stories.
One of those success stories is Arden wine bar and kitchen, which is celebrating its five-year anniversary throughout February.
Arden owner Kelsey Glasser was born and raised in the Willamette Valley, which she said people now know as the heart of wine country — but that wasn’t the case when she was growing up.
After graduating from Sherwood High School, Glasser left for New York University to study acting. There, and later on, when she moved to Los Angeles, she worked in several restaurants while developing her acting career.
Ultimately, she grew tired of the LA film scene and decided to focus on the hospitality industry instead. Her work with Michelin-starred chef José Andrés at his restaurant The Bazaar led her to her love of wine.
“At some point there, I really was enjoying the wine part of it and someone suggested that I become a sommelier and I thought that sounded fun, so I did,” Glasser said. “I started running wine programs at different restaurants in LA… I wanted to open up my own spot and it was really cost-prohibitive in Los Angeles, and the beauty of Portland was that the food and wine scene was booming up here.”
In 2015, Glasser returned to Portland with her then-partner to open Thelonius Wines, a wine bar that was located two blocks away from where Arden currently is. The business mostly served wines, with small charcuterie boards for guests who wanted a snack to accompany their drinks.
Thelonius Wines became a big hit in the Pearl District. The outpour of support inspired the owner to open a more expansive restaurant, with a wider range of food offerings. According to Glasser, her now-closed wine bar is what introduced her to Arden’s investors.
“It was kind of the success of Thelonius that bloomed into Arden,” she said. “The idea behind Arden was always to be wine-focused, but we wanted the food to match. Because to me, food and wine go hand in hand. And while it was amazing having a wine bar, I think the best way to enjoy wine is when paired alongside a great meal. Arden was really the fruition of that.”
Now when customers dine at Arden, they’ll be met with a menu that features both a la carte and prix fixe food options that pair well with the restaurant’s many wine offerings. The menu includes cocktails, beer and non-alcoholic drinks as well.
Arden’s wine focus may have been the initial draw for customers who tried the restaurant upon opening, but Executive Chef Erik Van Kley brought in some business of his own — unbeknownst to Glasser.
“When we hired Erik in August of 2019, I had no idea that he has such a loyal following of raving fans in the Portland area from all the great restaurants where he’s worked,” she said. “That didn’t play at all into the reason that we hired him. We hired him because he was extremely talented and so great to get along with and to work with, but it was just a plus that he came with this whole following.”
Van Kley’s knowledge from restaurants such as Gotham Building Tavern, Le Pigeon and Accanto helped Arden sustain itself during the “rollercoaster” that was the pandemic. According to Glasser, the executive chef’s maintained a certain quality even when the team transitioned from in-person fine dining to takeout-only.
Much of the restaurant’s longevity can be attributed to the creativity and resilience of its staff. When the City of Portland announced that food and drink businesses could serve customers outdoors, Arden staff built a patio in just a few days. When Glasser was unable to give patrons in-person experiences, she started doing hour-long weekly wine tastings on Instagram Live.
“It did feel like one thing after another but I really think that the fact that we stuck with it is the reason that we’re hitting this anniversary today,” Glasser said. “We just did a full kitchen renovation and we couldn’t have done that if we hadn’t had such a busy year this last year, which I’m just so grateful for and humbled by.”
Arden had its soft opening in February 2018, before officially opening to the public in March. The wine bar and kitchen is celebrating now by bringing back favorite dishes, like the black truffle pierogi, and pouring a 2005 Oregon Pinot Noir in honor of its fifth year.
Celebrate with Arden by making a reservation here.
The restaurant is located at 417 NW 10th Ave.