Food & Drink

A New Career in a New Town

Visionary Restaurateur Michael Hebberoy Lands in Seattle

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Curt Doughty

On MAY 7, 2005, I saw the most amazing restaurant in Portland: clarklewis. The reason I was there was because one of the owners, Michael Hebberoy, wanted the company of Paul Miller (DJ Spooky), who was performing that evening at Barbati's Pan. I was hanging out with Miller, and Hebberoy picked us up, drove us to clarklewis, and fed us like kings. The food, the wine, the company—all of it was extraordinary.

Clarklewis is a renovated loading dock on Portland's Southeast Water Avenue. Train tracks, warehouses, and the shadows of industrial monsters surround the restaurant, which was packed the night of our visit. Not one table was free and the kitchen was a vision of hell—fire, heat, men and women furiously cooking. Even Miller, a man who has seen more of this world than most of us, was in a daze. But Hebberoy was at home in this prosperous world. He had about him the glittering aura of royalty. He was only 28 at the time and clarklewis was part of a growing empire that included Family Supper and Gotham Bldg. Tavern. The empire was called Ripe and the epicurean novelist and editor Matthew Stadler was its writer in residence.

In 2001, Michael started Family Supper with his wife, Naomi, in the garage of their bungalow. People came, ate, and fell in love with their cooking and ideas. Eventually the couple went legit, and the business grew into Ripe. By 2004, Portland's press couldn't get enough of their success story. In September of 2005, W magazine named Michael and Naomi "the young prince and princess of the Pacific Northwest food scene." Their energy was vital, raw, full of blood, and the sky was the limit.

In March 2006, Michael's empire vanished, and is now nothing more than a very bright memory. His marriage also went under. (Clarklewis, however, is still operated by Naomi.) The city of Portland has been on fire with gossip and rumors: How could this happen? Who was responsible? Some point at Michael, others at Naomi. But all of that is not important. Things come and go; nothing in the world is stable. Whatever the case, Michael Hebberoy—an indefatigable spirit, a dreamer, an idealist, a Platonist who wants to revolutionize public and private dining—has found the way out of Portland and made Seattle the point from which he will launch future projects.

His new concept is One Pot. It has elements of his previous Family Supper (gatherings that transform the site of dining into one of interaction, experimentation, and accidental and creative exchanges), but this time he wants to spread this food and dining philosophy across a wider area of social life. "One Pot," wrote Michael in a recent e-mail, "will travel. I am presently looking for rather fucked-up Seattle venues—dive bar, rock club, storage unit—to invite an occasion. I am also considering taking these dinners to things like SXSW, Sundance, the City of Light, Detroit, the Deep South." Michael is also working on a book titled Kill the Restaurant.

"There are all these rumors about why Ripe didn't work, like I was doing this and that with a young waitress, but it's all not true," Michael told me over lunch at Cafe Stellina, which, though open, was surrounded by loud construction activity. On the second floor of the incomplete building, walls of translucent plastic covered the area that will soon be the home of Osteria la Spiga. A din of banging, drilling, and cutting was made by men who worked and worked. Michael added, "I put a lot of money into Gotham and lost it all. That's what happened. Gotham didn't make money. Clarklewis still makes money, but Gotham never did. I think [Ripe] should not have grown so fast and stayed smaller. But with corporate America—and we became corporate—it is all about growth." I ordered the bill, the banging increased, the waiter apologized for the noise.

"I have to see this in rock-music terms. Ripe was the band. It had a couple of big hits. Now it's over and this is my solo career," Michael said as we signed our receipts. "The question now is what kind of solo career will it be? One like Mike Watt or Chris Cornell? We will see."

charles@thestranger.com
 

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