Toro Bravo Inc., a restaurant group that once included nearly a dozen restaurants and a gleaming Pearl District “gastronomic society,” will be dissolved in the wake of a Facebook outburst directed at a trans woman of color by chef John Gorham, new leader Renee Gorham told staff at a meeting Wednesday morning, sources told The Oregonian/OregonLive.
The closures will include destination Spanish restaurant Toro Bravo, brunch-focused sister restaurants Tasty n Alder and Tasty n Daughters as well as the Pearl District events space Plaza del Toro. John Gorham had already struck a deal to divest his interests in seven other restaurants within the Toro Bravo Inc. group. Those include Mediterranean Exploration Company, two locations of Shalom Y’all, two locations of Bless Your Heart burgers, the falafel shop Mama Sesame and the upcoming Y’alla.
The decision, which was confirmed by Renee Gorham on Wednesday evening, puts an end to one of the most successful Portland restaurant groups of the past decade. And it comes after a widespread departure of staff, many of whom left after the offensive nature of Gorham’s private Facebook messages was revealed last weekend, according to several current and former employees.
Renee Gorham did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday, writing in an email to The Oregonian/OregonLive that “we hope to continue to provide meals for shelters through July.”
The saga began in May, after several Toro Bravo Inc. vans parked near Southeast Portland’s Tasty n Daughters were tagged. According to the Gorhams, the graffiti was part of a string of break-ins and vandalism that had cost the company a combined $75,000 as they struggled to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, leaving the chef on edge.
Gorham took to Facebook on May 23, floating the idea of starting a “vigilante” neighborhood patrol to keep properties safe and offering a $5,000 reward for information about the vandals. That post caught the eye of a trans woman of color, who said she decided to “mock” Gorham with a separate post, which offered to leave a box of free spray paint for any street artists who might need it, while captioning a photo of Gorham’s tagged vans with, “Art fills me with such joy.” The woman asked not to be identified after receiving harassment.
Gorham was soon alerted to the woman’s post and, along with his followers, began to release personal details about the woman, apparently thinking she was responsible for the graffiti, including a picture of her and another of her SUV, license plate visible.
A series of heated exchanges followed both in public comments and private messages, as Gorham and his followers made veiled threats against the person behind the mocking post. Though John Gorham said he did not know the sexual identity of the woman at the time, the chef threatened to “kick you in your little man (vulgar term for a woman’s genitalia),” according to screenshots of private messages she provided to The Oregonian/OregonLive. Last week, she approached the Gorhams for money, saying she planned to take the story public.
The Gorhams offered to donate $5,000 to charity as an apology; she asked to be paid directly, promising to donate half, according to emails the Gorhams shared with The Oregonian/OregonLive. Ultimately, the Gorhams said they made a $5,000 donation to the Native American Youth and Family Center and issued a public apology.
In an email to The Oregonian/OregonLive last week, John Gorham announced he had checked into the hospital and would “not be returning to the company.” In a separate announcement posted to the company’s website, he apologized for his “extremely immature outbreak and misguided anger via Facebook.”
In the statement, Gorham blamed his 2018 brain surgery for removing “the area that controls emotions and common sense.”
According to a current employee, Renee Gorham met with staff at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Plaza Del Toro to announce that the restaurant group would be dissolved and that Toro Bravo, Tasty n Alder and Tasty n Daughters would not reopen. She also announced that Plaza Del Toro, which has been acting as a community kitchen during the coronavirus-enforced shutdown, would also close after fulfilling its current contracts with nonprofits through its Feed It Forward meal train sponsorship program.
“It is my responsibility that the food that is in our freezers and on our shelves makes it to the people that need it the most,” Renee Gorham said Wednesday evening.
In emails this week, John Gorham wrote that he had left the hospital and had been diagnosed as clinically depressed.
“When this is said and done I’ll be bankrupt, holding nothing but memories,” Gorham wrote.
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