O’Connor’s in Multnomah Village has been one of my favorite Portland restaurants for nearly twenty years – before it even was in Multnomah Village. The food is terrific but the owner is a classic. Steve Arel was on the board of director of Baloney Joe’s during the same period I was. Today The Oregonian profiled his restaurant and they got the story right. Instead of sending in a food critic they sent in a writer to get a flavor for who Steve Arel is.
Steve Arel grew up in the restaurant and bar business under family tutelage back when O'Connor's was downtown's last men-only establishment.
But 18 years after he took over from his dad in 1972, Arel wearied of being a tenant in the battered old Jack London Hotel, the last of three downtown O'Connor's locations. He decided to buy his own building.
Arel, who grew up in Southwest Portland and graduated from Wilson High School, found a place on a street he'd bicycled countless times as a kid. It was a tavern at 7850 S.W. Capitol Highway.
In 1991, Arel transformed it into the new home of O'Connor's. Besides a full bar and a moderately priced menu of eclectic Tex-Mex-Southern-style food, the restaurant has become home away from home for many regulars, and Arel has planted himself firmly as a Multnomah Village asset.
"Steve is probably the most generous business owner in the village," says Luna Jaffe, president of the Multnomah Village Business Association. Jaffe works nearby and eats often at O'Connor's. "He has donated an endless amount of food and beverages to a wide range of events, in addition to operating a consistently well-run restaurant."
Arel upped his community ante four years ago when he bought an adjoining storefront that housed the Multnomah Bank when he was a kid.
The annex, which Arel also calls the Vault, is a music venue at night and can be rented for evening parties. During the day, Arel makes it available at no cost for community groups, including the business association.
"I don't use it a lot during the day," Arel says. "I've been in the community a long time. It's a way of giving back."
That isn’t the only way he gives back to the community. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked Steve to help with a fund raiser and there has never been a time when has turned me down.
We tried to go there just last week but they hadn’t opened up yet (I guess unlike our twins most people don’t think 5:45 am is an appropriate breakfast time). It was a big loss for us. Where else in town can you get food that good from a business owner so committed to his town?