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|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.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY BRIAN LIBBY
Ben Kaiser holds his ground.
Thursday, July 09, 2015
The sweltering weather didn't keep the crowds away. Although the numbers were down slightly from last year, the Oregon Food Bank raised $850,636 to fight hunger. About 80,000 people attended despite temperatures in the upper 90s.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Which of the following would be most effective in reducing the cost of operating a public university in Oregon?
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER
In 2010 Vanessa Keitges and several investors purchased Portland-based Columbia Green Technologies, a green-roof company. The 13-person firm has a 200% annual growth rate, exports 30% of its product to Canada and received its first infusion of venture capital in 2014 from Yaletown Venture Partners. CEO Keitges, 40, a Southern Oregon native who serves on President Obama’s Export Council, talks about market innovation, scaling small business and why Oregon is falling behind in green-roof construction.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
BY JASON NORRIS | CFA
Earlier this month, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) announced they were going to devalue their currency, the Renminbi. While the amount of the targeted change was to be roughly 2 percent, investors read a lot more into the move. The Renminbi had been gradually appreciating against the U.S. dollar (see chart) as to attempt to alleviate concerns of being labeled a currency manipulator.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR
One of the hottest new investment trends has proven quite lucrative for some companies.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
BY JASON E. KAPLAN | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Greenpeace activists suspended themselves from the St. John's Bridge in an attempt to prevent a ship from heading to the Arctic.
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Yesterday, a divided National Labor Relations Board dropped another hammer on the employer community. In a long-awaited and much debated move, the Board jettisoned the decades old standard for determining when two independent businesses should be considered joint employers of an individual worker for collective bargaining purposes.
Transforming the culture of Oregon’s educational leadership.
The Board dismissed a petition related to efforts to unionize the Northwestern University football team.
Oregon Sick Leave is here, and changes to the federal white-collar worker regulations are on the way. This workshop will prepare you for both. We invite you to participate in an interactive discussion on how to start planning now for the future impact on your operations and finances.
Presented by OEN + CENTRL + YESpdx.
This Roundtable will cover numerous issues under the employer "shared responsibility" rules of the Affordable Care Act, including how to track the "full-time" status of variable-hour employees, temporary or seasonal employees, and employees who experience a change in status or a break in service. Additionally, we will provide a brief overview of Code sections 6055 and 6056, which require most mid-sized and large employers to submit their first information reports to the IRS in early 2016 regarding the health insurance coverage being offered to employees. We invite you to participate in an interactive discussion on how to prepare for the future impact of the shared responsibility rules on your operations and finances.