Salt & Straw, the small-batch ice cream shop that started life as a Northeast Portland food cart, has closed its 17 stores across seven U.S. cities, the company announced Monday.
The company has laid off 662 employees, or about 95 percent of its staff, over the past week, according to founding owner Kim Malek.
“I hope I’ll never have to do anything harder,” Malek said through tears Tuesday. “It’s just unthinkable.”
First opened as a Northeast Alberta Street ice cream cart by Malek and her cousin, Tyler, in 2011, Salt & Straw has four scoop shops in the Portland area, one each in Northeast, Southeast and Northwest Portland, and the fourth in Lake Oswego. Wiz Bang Bar, the Maleks’ soft serve bar at Pine Street Market, closed last week after Gov. Kate Brown’s March 16 order banning on-premises dining at restaurant and bars across the state. At that time, Salt & Straw’s stores stopped offering samples and scoops, but remained open part-time to offer take-out and delivery pints.
According to Malek, President Trump’s activation of the National Guard in California and Washington, two states where Salt & Straw has stores, helped her decide to shut “for the health and safety” of her staff and customers.
Over the past week, some Portland food and drink producers have expressed their relief at continuing to serve retail accounts, including grocery stores, after their dining and tap rooms have closed. But Salt & Straw has long focused on expanding its own stores, including two new Miami scoop shops which were expected to open this summer. Currently, Salt & Straw’s kitchens are also closed, meaning the company is not producing any ice cream. Malek says she will evaluate the situation over the next couple of weeks. “All options are up for consideration at this point,” Malek said.
After the coronavirus pandemic diminishes, Malek hopes to reopen and hire her team back. For now, she asks Salt & Straw fans to reach out to their government representatives and “demand they take action” to help small businesses and the millions of employees across the nation affected by COVID-19.
“We need help,” Malek said. “We really need help. Everybody in the food industry needs help. “
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