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Elmer’s exit ends era on 82nd Avenue


The McCarthy & Danna Food Center was located on the outskirts of Portland on Northeast 82nd and Halsey Street. This building was torn down in 1960 and replaced by the very first Elmer’s Restaurant.
The original Elmer’s Restaurant on Northeast 82nd Avenue at Halsey Street opened in 1960 and closed last month after 48 years of continuous service to the Mid-county community.
In 1960, when Salvatore “Sam” G. Danna built a restaurant building for Walter Elmer on 82nd Avenue at Portland’s eastern boundary, little did he know that he built the first of what would become the flagship restaurant in a chain of restaurants. At one point, Elmer’s Restaurant had 34 locations across five states, two time zones and grossed over $60 million a year in sales.

In the early ‘50s, Sullivan’s Gulch was widened at Northeast Halsey near 80th Avenue to accommodate the construction of I-84; the Banfield Freeway made Halsey noncontiguous, until they built an overpass years later. Sam Danna, who also operated a grocery store on the site, lost the northern piece of his property. Because the land under the store was excavated for the below-grade freeway, his store and underlying property were condemned. So, the store was torn down and Sam, who had always intended to rebuild his store, never did so. Instead, Walt Elmer contacted him about building a restaurant on the site and the rest, as they say, is history.

At one time a publicly traded stock on NASDAQ, the Elmer’s corporation is now a privately held corporation with 27 locations in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California and annual gross sales of approximately $50 million.

After almost 50 years, the original Elmer’s Restaurant location on Northeast 82nd Avenue at Halsey Street closed last month. Rong Mei bought the land and the building from Sam’s sons, Jerry and Joe Danna. Mei’s purchase included the building’s fixtures, furniture, dishes, pots, pans and cutlery. Mei owns the Republic Café in Northwest Portland and the New Cathay Restaurant in Clackamas, which specialize in Cantonese and Szechwan cuisine. He plans to open another in the former Elmer’s building.

Aiming to start his own restaurant someday, Joe Danna – who had already been working with the Elmer family at the 82nd Avenue location – was pleased to take over the original Elmer’s. At the time, the Elmer family wanted to migrate into franchising new Elmer’s locations instead of running them. This turned into a fortuitous situation for both parties, as this is when Jerry Danna joined his brother in the partnership. This relationship has resulted in, among other ventures, the ownership of four other Elmer’s franchised restaurants throughout the Portland metro area.

The Danna brothers, who owned this original location, were sad about the sale but pragmatic. “The neighborhood passed us by,” Jerry said. “And it was time. It was my and Joe’s time in our personal estate planning. None of our kids are going to be involved in the business. This was a way to take some of our chips off the table and consolidate our efforts in Mid-county at our Parkrose and Mall 205 locations,” he said. “It’s a step towards retirement. We had an opportunity to liquidate that piece of the equation, and we took it. Our franchise agreement had come to an end; obviously we could have renewed it if we’d liked to, but it was just time. All the stars aligned to exit that location, and we wish Mr. Mei the best.”

Jerry knows that for some of their 82nd Avenue customers, it’ll be out of their traffic patterns to visit their other Elmer’s locations further east. He does hope that enough customers will transfer to their other locations to make it a good consolidation for them. In fact, Jerry has already begun seeing customers gravitating to their other locations. Additionally, the 14 employees that transferred to their other locations have also seen their old customers showing up, which thrills them.
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