|| Print ||
|Thursday, February 09, 2012|
Tigard-based Typhoon's decision to shutter all four of its Oregon restaurants last week capped years of troubles for the once acclaimed Thai restaurant chain, which has faced a series of allegations of worker discrimination, pay violation and tax evasion.
On a less litigious note, the fall of the house of Typhoon offers a snapshot of the changes facing ethnic restaurants in Portland, a city recognized nationwide for its culinary prowess.
One change hinges on the E-2 Visa program, which allows foreign investors to enter and work in the United States. Employees can also be hired under the E-2 program, but only if they possess highly specialized skills essential to the operation of the business.
Fifteen years ago, “E-2 visas were probably critical, if you valued truly authentic Thai cuisine,” says Kurt Huffman, a Portland restaurant consultant who owns eight restaurants, including Ping, an Asian restaurant in Old Town/Chinatown that opened in 2009. At the time, it was difficult to find local workers skilled in many types of ethnic cooking, he said. There also weren’t many U.S. nationals operating authentic ethnic restaurants.
But today, says Huffman, “the restaurant industry and the level of education and competency around a diversity of ethnic foods have grown so much.” As a result, the E- 2 visa program is much less important, he says.
Exhibit A is Pok Pok, the nationally acclaimed Thai restaurant run by Andy Ricker — “a white guy,” as Huffman puts it.
Huffman consulted with Ricker on Pok Pok, and Ricker was one of Ping’s original partners. Neither restaurant employs E-2 Visa workers.
Founded by husband and wife team Steve and Bo Kline—the latter is a Thai native —Typhoon opened in 1995, earning rave reviews for ushering in a new era of original and authentic Thai cuisine. "More complex and interesting than any other Thai restaurant we’ve visited, anywhere in the United States,” gushed the Food Lover’s Companion to Portland.
But that authenticity came at a price.
"Typhoon's business model is what I found fascinating,” said Beth Creighton, a lawyer who represented a former Typhoon chef and E-2 visa employee in a 2008 lawsuit against the company. The Klines "claim they can't find workers to cook Thai food because it's so complicated. They recruit from 5-star restaurants in Thailand and describe them as specialty chefs. “
But once in Portland, these so-called speciality employees labored overtime as line chefs for minimum wage, Creighton said. "This is not the way the E-2 visa program was intended to work."
Hiring E-2 Visa employees is a difficult and laborious process, said Robert Donaldson, a Portland attorney who handles such visas for restaurants and other employers. “I never understood how (Typhoon) was able to get so many,” he said. According to Creighton, Typhoon had about 35 E-2 employees. Restaurants with E-2 visa employees typically hire one or two at most, said Donaldson, who was an expert witness in Creighton's case.
Bo Kline declined to be interviewed for this story. Steve Kline died of a heart attack last summer. This past July, Creighton's client, Sarinya Reabroy, was awarded $268,000 in workers' compensation claims and unpaid overtime.
Seventeen years after Typhoon opened, Portland restaurants still bring in E-2 employees, Donaldson says. “But it’s not as common as it was,” in part because of the city’s sophisticated food scene. “I’ve had foreign restaurant owners set up restaurants in Portland because the amount of local talent is so good,” he said. “You can get really sharp people and hire them and the training time is fairly short because they already know how to do basic culinary skills; they just need to be brought up to speed.”
One month before Typhoon closed its doors, the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries charged the company with unfair labor practices. But even as the investigations continue, it's easy to read the rise and fall of Typhoon as more than a tale of worker abuses and financial mismanagement. A few days before Typhoon closed its doors, Willamette Week published a cover story on Pok Pok’s expansion into New York City, calling Ricker "Portland’s most celebrated chef.”
The simultaneous shuttering of one of Portland’s pioneering Thai restaurants and the expansion of another is something of a metaphor for the region’s changing food scene, and Portland's evolving interpretation of culinary authenticity.
Linda Baker is the managing editor of Oregon Business.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
BY OREGON BUSINESS STAFF
An SEC rule targets the disparity between executive and employee compensation, reigniting a long-standing debate about corporate social responsibility.
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER
A conversation with attorney Erich Merrill about the latest way to raise money from large groups of people.
Thursday, January 22, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR
They say maintaining a healthy marriage takes work. So does running a business with your spouse.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
BY APRIL STREETER
Democratic gains pave the way for a revival of environment and labor bills as revenue reform languishes.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Checking in with the managing director of Arnerich Massena.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
BY NISHANT BHAJARIA | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Startups in the growth phase are associated with a fresh infusion of capital — human and financial — a curiosity factor and products to disrupt the market and drive demand. Portland’s economy gives off the same aroma.
Friday, January 23, 2015
BY KIM MOORE | OB RESEARCH EDITOR
Carbon pricing is gaining momentum in Oregon, sparking concern for energy-intensive businesses — but also opportunity to expand a homespun green economy.
Real Time - Oregon Business
Tweets by @OregonBusiness
|Legislative Preview: A Shifting Balance|
|Tackling the CEO-worker pay gap|
|Corner Office: Pam Edstrom|
|Justice for All|
|Corner Office: Timothy Mitchell|
|Corner Office: Sheree Arntson|
|West Coast port talks resume after rallies|
|Consumers pine for better battery life|
|Gates Foundation aims to gradually improve world for the poor|
|European Central Bank announces stimulus measures|
|Netflix reports strong fourth quarter|
|Shazam eclipses $1B valuation mark|
|Elon Musk project, SpaceX, to be backed by Google|
Is your business ready to join us in the call for action? This opening panel includes Oregon businesses who will discuss why they signed the Oregon Climate Declaration, the investments they are making to reduce carbon emissions, and how their actions are affecting their companies.
Get ready for two days of special events produced with the EPA, Portland Timbers and ISOS before and after the GoGreen Conference on October 16.
How sports tourism is driving economic growth and making cities across Oregon a better place to live.
Port of Morrow's business-ready attitude has a surprising global impact.
Through its support of the arts, the Cultural Trust is strengthening the business community.
The official launch will be Jan. 14.
In a switch on the traditional trade show, representatives from UO departments and local and state agencies will host tables to connect with businesses and vendors. The fourth Reverse Vendor Fair will take place Wednesday, Feb. 25, in Eugene.
Featuring Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba along with high-profile Oregon Ag attorney Tim Bernasek whose recent matters include representing the Oregon wheat farmer who discovered unreleased “Roundup Ready” resistant GMO wheat growing in his fields.