For fifty years the most popular restaurant in the Hollywood neighborhood, Yaw’s Top Notch, is reopening in Gateway.
Despite being out of the restaurant business for more than thirty years, Steve Yaw, whose grandparents opened the first Yaw’s Top Notch in 1926, thinks he can capture lightning in a bottle again, this time in east Portland.
Set to open in mid-July, Yaw and a group of friends, family and investors have been looking for two years for the right place and think they found it at 11340 N.E. Halsey St. — since the late 90s, home to a series of nightclubs with checkered success; every incarnation having issues with the neighborhood association and police.
“Several of my former boys are both financially involved and on the board of directors. It’s kind of like old home week,” Yaw said. He also said he has former employees’ help training and even staffing the new Yaw’s, he said.
Open every day of the year except major holidays, Yaw’s served breakfast, lunch and dinner from 6 to 1 a.m. weekdays, and ‘til 2 a.m. on weekends and was well-known for its quality, homemade ingredients and one-of-a-kind recipes.
The famous Yaw’s hamburger with toasted buns and gravy fries, Green River soft drinks, thick milkshakes, homemade mayonnaise, relish, pickles, berry tarts and pies; and the car-hop service and Tootsie Roll cop, made Yaw’s Top Notch a destination location for Portlanders; people sometimes waiting more than an hour to get a seat.
Yaw said he is bringing all the old family recipes to this venture. “They were done with the old ribbon and ink typewriter; some of them are still handwritten from way back when, but we got them all on computer now.” He said he feels fortunate they have been able to come up with all the products that made their hamburgers unique.
At its peak in the seventies, Yaw’s had four locations in the metro area; including a Yaw’s Ham Bur-Beef location on Halsey, current home of King’s Omelets.
Yaw said when first the westbound Hollywood exit on I-84, then the 39th Avenue overpass were demolished as part of Portland’s first light rail construction in the early 80s, it made the Hollywood business district an island with no freeway exit between 181st Avenue and Lloyd Center. “It not only buried us, it buried a lot of businesses,” he said. We just couldn’t hang on. Our sales dropped $5,000 a day when they closed the exit, and when they demolished the overpass … it just buried us. It was a bad end to a long run, but we’re going to try it again.”
That old Yaw’s magic was so coveted, Mark Lindsay’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Café — the short-lived restaurant in Hollywood — tried to recreate it by using the Yaw’s name on the menu despite the Yaw family declining to be involved a full six months before they opened in July 2007. Yaw said he had to sue them to stop using their name. “The only documents we ever had with them was a very vague and loose letter of intent saying we would consider going into business with them.”
He said he is not going to stub his toe as they did. “We’re going to do it right,” he said. “It’s gotta be right before we open full-tilt. Now that it’s finally becoming a reality, we wish we could be open yesterday. We can hardly wait.”
Neither can we Steve.