Home Back Issues September 2009 Sticking with tradition

Sticking with tradition

| Print |  Email
Archives - September 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Tactics_01
HUBER'S
www.hubers.com
FOUNDED: 1879
EMPLOYEES: 50
HEADQUARTERS: Portland
KAHLUA BOTTLES BOUGHT IN 2008: 3,300
President James Louie (right) and VP David Louie
PHOTOS BY LEAH NASH

James Louie, the dapper, soft-spoken, wisecracking president of Huber’s, is fond of pointing out that two of the most commonly repeated proverbs instructing people on how to succeed in business contradict one another.

The first saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” is a beloved favorite for speculators and entrepreneurs. Louie prefers the second parable: “Don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

Louie’s golden goose is his family’s venerable restaurant and bar. Ask him what has changed here over the past 100 years, and he ponders the question as a melancholic clarinet melody mixes with the murmur of the late-afternoon bar crowd. Eventually he points out a booth built out to fit larger parties, a portion of a wall taken down to highlight some gorgeous woodwork and the missing counter where his great uncle used to carve turkey in the 1920s, moved back into an expanded kitchen hidden from view. That’s about it. Ask him what he’d like to see change over the next 100 years and his answer comes more quickly: nothing.

Huber’s survived Prohibition by serving speakeasy Manhattans in coffee cups to a nucleus of regulars that included Portland’s chief of police. The place has outlasted the Great Depression, two World Wars and several bouts with double-digit unemployment. Amid all of the booms and busts, very little has changed at Huber’s. And the 63-year-old Louie intends to keep it that way. There is no arugula on his menu. The man does not tweet.

Tactics_02
Tactics_04
Tactics_06

“Sometimes the best game plan is to stick with what you know,” he says.

This is not to say that Louie is lazy. He has been working long hours and late nights for decades, always immaculately dressed. For a long stretch he used to wear a suit for the first half of the day and then change into a tuxedo for his shift concocting Spanish Coffees, for which he would light the match with one hand and ignite the perfect rope of fire with the flair of an illusionist.

James and his brother, David, 57, who serves as vice president, manage a staff of 50 people between the restaurant and the catering business. Their family’s connection to Huber’s dates back to great-uncle Jim Louie, who snuck into Portland in 1881 as a stowaway aboard a windjammer from Canton, found work at the tavern and gradually gained enough respect and capital to become part owner. The Louie family gained full ownership of the business in 1952.

Rather than remake the business to emphasize their Chinese-American heritage, the Louies have embraced the traditions that came with the place, and built on them. They’re happy to show off the 100-year-old ship’s clock above the bar, the pewter wine bucket at the end of the bar, the stylish spittoon now serving as a tip jar, the stained-glass ceilings overhead. The Manhattan in a coffee cup evolved into a Spanish coffee after James saw a bar in Milwaukie doing a thriving business lighting drinks on fire.

Great-uncle Louie’s traditional duty of nourishing regulars with turkey sandwiches morphed into a vow to serve Thanksgiving turkey dinners 365 days a year. Years of greeting customers by name while seating them led to an email newsletter list of 2,000 names, although James still prefers to greet customers the old-fashioned way, formally and in person. He estimates he can name at least 1,000 customers on sight.

Other Oregon restaurateurs such as Bill McCormick of McCormick & Schmick’s and Guss Dussin of the Old Spaghetti Factory have built multimillion-dollar empires from Manhattan to LA. Many others have attempted similar expansions and lost everything. The Louies resisted the urge to move into Happy Valley (nothing ventured, nothing lost), and they owe no money beyond their monthly lease payments. Revenues are holding steady at about $2 million per year. The last time they borrowed money to expand the restaurant, they were able to pay back a $500,000 loan within five years.

The next trick will be figuring how to keep the business in the family. James Louie’s sons have expressed no interest in taking over. But his 2½-year old granddaughter, Brianna, is “fascinated with everything,” he says. She’s also reaching that age where parables about golden eggs start to make sense.


BEN JACKLET
 

Comments   

 
Guest
0 #1 RE: Sticking with traditionGuest 2014-01-18 02:38:32
I was just sitting here Googling around and landed on this article. Although it is over 3 years old, I'm delighted to find it and hope that James and David are still enjoying good health and prosperity. I am Lei Augusta Huber Smith, granddaughter of Huber's founder Frank Risley Huber and his wife Augusta Hildebrand Huber, and daughter of Jack and Audrey Huber. As you might recognize from the names, I am from long-time Portland-area business families and a 4th generation Oregonian. I'm proud of my family's heritage and especially proud of the legacy and continuance of Huber's Restaurant. James and David have demonstrated a commitment not often seen in local business and they are to be heartily commended. Kudos to them and all the staff at Huber's. It is my heartfelt prayer that Huber's continues long into the future.
Quote | Report to administrator
 

More Articles

Barrister bands

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
IMG 4691BY LINDA BAKER

An intellectual property attorney by day, 48-year-old Stoll Berne attorney Tim DeJong is a singer and guitarist by night.


Read more...

Video: Kickstarting Oregon business

News
Thursday, March 27, 2014
02.04.14 Thumbnail VideoBY JESSICA RIDGWAY | OB WEB EDITOR

Watch this OB Original Video about three Oregon companies and how crowd-funding "kickstarted" their business ideas.


Read more...

Revolution in print, pixels and passion

News
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
RyanFrankNewsBY MARK BLAINE | OB BLOGGER

The publisher of the Emerald Media Group moves on, leaving a cutting edge media group that depends on business acumen for its survival.


Read more...

Powerlist: Meeting perspectives

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

BY BRANDON SAWYER

A conversation about the event-planning industry with sales directors from McMenamins and the Portland Art Museum. 


Read more...

The 2014 List: The Top 33 Large Companies to Work, For in Oregon

March 2014
Thursday, February 27, 2014

100best14logoWebOur 100 Best Companies project turned 21 this year, so pop open the Champagne. Our latest survey gives us plenty to cheer.

 


Read more...

Workplace benefits

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Health care and vacations rule. That’s the consensus from our reader poll on workplace benefits that help retain and recruit employees.


Read more...

Small business sales go big

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

BY BRANDON SAWYER

Sales of small businesses surged in 2013 according to the biggest Internet marketplace of such transactions, BizBuySell, increasing to 7,056 reported sales, a 24% increase over 2012, when they dropped 7%. Portland Metro sales tracked by the site grew 9% to 73, capping three years of solid growth. On top of that, Portland’s median sale price jumped 67% to $250K, versus just 13% to $180K nationally. Portland was one of just six metros tracked where the median sale price matched the median asking price, with sellers getting, on average, 92% of what they asked.

BTNMarch14 tableBTNMarch14 line


BTNMarch14 piePDXBTNMarch14 pieUSA


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS