Since 1978, Bijou Cafe has had the pleasure of serving Portland locals and visitors from around the world. We’re honored to be the regular dining venue for many, as well as the place you bring your out-of-town guests for a special Portland treat.
Over the decades we’ve formed partnerships with several local farmers and foragers who have helped us maintain our commitment to serving fresh, quality food. We embrace many of the slow food principles including preparing each dish to order to highlight the fresh, local ingredients from our larder.
...ABOUT THE OWNER
Kathleen Hagberg, owner since 1978
I grew up in post-WWII Portland, just off Hawthorne Blvd., in the boarding house my parents owned. My mother prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner for the boarders, my dad and me. It was a place where food was being prepared and eaten all day long and everything was hand-made from fresh ingredients. I still remember a farmer driving his flat bed truck down our street full of fruits and vegetables to sell.
My earliest memories include being in the kitchen helping my mother cook. I chopped parsley, peeled onion, shelled beans, kneaded dough. The best, of course, was stirring the cake batter and licking the bowl.
All the women in my family were excellent cooks who were constantly comparing recipes. Family gatherings were always centered around preparing the food we would eat with large groups of people - friends, family, neighbors - enjoying each other’s company and the food.
It’s no surprise I ended up in the restaurant business. After working in the restaurant business for ten years I knew I wanted to have my own place and it wasn’t going be big or have a menu designed for mass consumption.
In 1978, my partner Bonnie Allen and I maxed out our credit cards and opened the Bijou Cafe in the Skidmore District of downtown Portland. It literally was a hole in the wall. But it was ours.
We never had a plan or a formula. We kind of knew what we wanted but we definitely knew what we didn’t want.
It’s pretty amazing we made it work. I remember clearly the first eggs I made for one of our first customers. He told me, “This is the worst omelette I’ve ever had. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
He was right.
So we set about learning how to make the best French omelette with help from Julia Child cookbooks and our friend, wine writer Matt Kramer. We still use that perfected method of making omelettes today.
We were hungry to learn more about food. Within our first year of business, we closed for three weeks and went to France. In our first four years of business, we closed up shop and travel to France three more times. That was the closest we came to cooking school.
Those travels to France filled us with ideas we were eager to try in Portland. By 1979-80, we were a small diner serving breakfast Monday through Friday. Then Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings we transformed the cafe into a charming dinner bistro. It’s amazing to still hear from customers who fondly remember those dinners from 40 years ago.
By the early 1980’s we realized we could not sustain our business both day and evening (we only had one or two employees at that time), so we shifted to breakfast and brunch only, expanded our dining room space (to it’s current size) and opened seven days a week.
We still wanted to use the freshest ingredients and the French cooking techniques we had taught ourselves – we just wanted to apply all of this to breakfast. Fortunately, a lot of Portlanders liked what we were offering.
In 1992, Bonnie was ready to try something new. She sold me her half of the Bijou and I’ve run the cafe since then. While the Bijou has many constants such as quality food, it is a dynamic place that has continued to evolve.