PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE/KOIN) — Burgerville has locked the doors of its Lents area eatery in Southeast Portland.

The closure — billed as temporary — comes after “many months” of worsening conditions at the neighborhood burger joint, 3504 S.E. 92nd Ave., due to rising problems with crime and vandalism, the company said in an Aug. 3 statement.

The iconic Pacific Northwest chain says it hired private security in an effort to improve employee and customer safety, but to no avail.

“The environment around the restaurant has deteriorated seriously,” a company spokesperson told the Tribune. “Police are now being called daily. Burgerville employees have found weapons, drug paraphernalia and human waste on the property.”

The neon-hued fast-food restaurant shares a border with the Interstate 205 multi-use path and an Oregon Department of Transportation buffer that has hosted large homeless encampments this year. The responsibility for clearing camps on ODOT land within city limits falls on Portland officials, not the state, however.

While there’s no timeline for reopening, Burgerville CEO Jill Taylor said all employees at the shuttered storefront have been offered jobs at nearby locations.

“I will always put the safety and security of our employees first,” Taylor said. “It is not just Burgerville. Other businesses are being impacted, too. There is a humanitarian crisis happening throughout our region, and we need to come together around solutions.”

Burgerville owns the Lents property outright via its privately held owner, The Holland Inc., records show. The location is one of five that has sought to unionize since 2016, though no deal between labor and management has ever been signed.

Reached for comment, union officials said the closure of restaurant No. 41 “comes as a complete shock” to workers who did not receive a hint of warning.

“We will be meeting with our legal counsel and allies to see how best to move forward and to ascertain if this is supported by our membership at store 41 or not,” the officials said. “These decisions should come with the consent of employees, in tandem with the democratically elected representatives of employees on how to resolve the issue.”

After 60 years in business, Burgerville now boasts 1,000 employees and some 40 locations. The company has no current plans to expand. It has restaurants at three other locations in Portland, as well as in the adjacent suburbs of Gresham and Milwaukie.

“My hope is this will be a temporary closure, and that we can work with the leaders in Multnomah County, the city of Portland, and the state of Oregon to improve conditions in communities throughout the Northwest,” Taylor said.

‘With the homeless crisis, let’s figure this out’
By Jenny Young, KOIN 6 News Staff

Tom Burke, who owns two King Pins including one adjacent to Burgerville in Southeast Portland, said he’s disappointed they closed. But this problem has persisted for 2 years and is getting worse, he said.

“We are right next to a path that leads to the MAX station and you know, you have children and families walking on that path next, all the way up to the MAX station. And over the last year-and-a- half or so, we’ve had a number of tents just stack up right in the area,” Burke said. “It started with one and we now have about 20, just along the path going up as I mentioned to the MAX station. And the unfortunate thing is you know you have families and children that are walking up the path and at any time you can find hundreds of needles.”

He said they’ve reached out to Mayor Wheeler and County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson but have not received any response.

“The homeless crisis is certainly a very serious situation in Portland. We all know it, we’ve all been impacted by that, but this is really not the place to have a homeless camps right next to our businesses,” Burke said.

He wants the mayor and elected leaders to come out and see for themselves what the area looks like before the sporadic clean ups and sweeps.

“We have put our life and soul into these businesses here and to see Portland go from where it was even as little as 5 years ago to where we are today, there’s no question, that’s disheartening,” Burke said. “We’ve put our life into this, but we don’t really think that we’re getting the support that we need from a business standpoint.”

He said there needs to be a solution beyond cleaning up the camps once in a while and then coming back and doing it again after the campers return.

“The world’s not perfect. It’s not going to be perfect. We are going to have some things that we need to deal with in our life. This is one of those crises” Burke said. “Absolutely, with the homeless crisis, let’s figure this out, but also let’s consider others — businesses, residents in our communities and figure out how we can take care of them as well as support them.”

Statements from city leaders

Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office provided KOIN 6 News with this statement: “We take situations like this very seriously. Community safety is one of the Mayor’s top priorities and it’s unfortunate anytime people and businesses in our community feel unsafe. We continue working with the Portland Police Bureau to identify resources and solutions to improve safety citywide.”

City Commissioner Mingus Mapps said: ““There is a public safety gap. The size of our police department is roughly where it was in the early 1990s, and in the meantime our population has doubled. You can see the evidence of this in our response times. Our city is also attempting to recover from the economic impact of a global pandemic. We need to institute body cameras to ensure transparency while simultaneously achieve appropriate staffing levels for our police department. City Council needs to act with a sense of urgency. Burgerville is a local company that sources local ingredients and hires local union employees. It’s on us if we ignore this warning sign.”

Burgerville union: Complete surprise

The Burgerville Workers Union said news of the closure came as a complete surprise.

“This comes as a complete shock to us and our members as no previous mention of such an action was ever hinted at, we are in contact with BVWU membership at 41 as to how best assist them and seek to be in as immediate contact with the company as to how quickly this issue can be remedied,” the union said in a statement. “We will be meeting with our legal counsel and allies to see how best to move forward, we will be filing a ULP for unilateral changes to working conditions. These decisions should come with the consent of employees, in tandem with the democratically elected representatives of workers on how to resolve the issue, not a surprise announcement with no input. We fear the company is seeking to invoke a sweep in the area rather than work with community to assist and house those in need or to use this as an excuse to shut down a union shop. We stand with our members, our community, and want an amicable solution together when we meet on the 9th that assists our members AND assists not hurts those suffering housing insecurity”