Kurt Huffman is a Portland boy, born and raised. It’s not that he’s being coy when he describes his restaurant group ChefStable as “a small company.” It’s that he gets what Portland is all about: chef-driven, independent concepts. He applies his experience to assure that every time ChefStable works with a new partner that the chef’s vision remains sacred. The goal is that the final shape and identity of the restaurant proves to be a true reflection of this vision. And it has paid off. From James Beard-nominated Aaron Barnett’s St. Jack to Greg and Gabi Denton’s Ox and Rick Gencarelli’s casual sandwich shop Lardo, things have gone well.
The seed of the business began at Huffman’s first cooking class, when he was 10 years old. Four years later, he was working as a dishwasher and grill cook at Fat City Café in Multnomah Village. He would go on to study at UC Berkeley, but at 25 he found himself in Scotland, balancing rugby and a good amount of beer drinking with a master’s degree in law from the University of Glasgow. He had beer in mind when a French friend asked him to collaborate on a business in Lyon, France. They settled on a brewery, “because it’s such an obvious thing to do at 25.” It turned into a gastropub called Ninkasi. By the time Huffman left France, there were five locations.
He returned to his hometown of Portland and founded ChefStable in 2008, with the mission to open culinary concepts geared toward the vision of individual chefs. From there the business has grown mostly by word of mouth and continues to get bigger everyday.