One of the most famous and respected breweries in Oregon. The other is a famous Portland restaurateur and a Top Chef finalist.
Now, the husband-and-wife team of Whitney Burnside and Doug Adams will be teaming up on their first professional endeavor together: the opening of the Grand Fir Brewing in the Buckman neighborhood of southeast Portland.
said Burnside, who sat down with Adams this week for an interview with The Oregonian/Oregon Live.
“It got real when Doug saw the vision,” she said. “We’ve thought about it, we’ve come up with it and we’ve come up with a plan that we feel people will really enjoy.”
The couple envision a brewery and restaurant with accessible brewpub fare from Adams designed to go along with Burnside beer. The menu will reflect Adams’ roots in Texas and Montana, beginning with dinner, then adding brunch and, eventually, a secluded dinner club for dinner with crafted beer, themed steakhouse nights and other ticketed affairs.
Grand Fir will take over the current location of West Coast Grocery Co when it closes at the end of August. The West Coast grocery recently announced that it would be closing after being unable to recover from the economic stresses of the pandemic and an incident of sexual harassment in the first six months after it opened in 2018.
culinary power couple
Adams is as well known in the food world as Burnside is in beer. But when it comes to formal training, Burnside—who at the end of August left her position as a brewer at 10 Barrel Brewing in Portland—may make it out to him.
Having grown up in the Seattle area, Burnside earned a degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University in Denver in 2008. Returning to Washington, she secured a position at The Herbfarm, a popular farm-to-table restaurant in Woodinville.
“My first job at Herbfarm was as a cheese maker,” Burnside said. “They gave me the dispenser and the brochure, and I just went to make cheese for serving. (Now the chef) Chris Webber, one of our days off, was brewing at home, and I was like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I just never saw him. I’ve never seen Hops in their raw form. I’ve never smelled them.”
Burnside went straight from work to a beer shop, where she bought a fancy starter kit.
Her fascination with brewing continued to grow, and after she took an internship at the Laurelwood Brewery in Northeast Portland, her brewing experience began to pile up. She held positions at Upright Brewing in Portland and Elysian Brewing in Seattle. This led to Pelican Brewing in Pacific City, where she became president of the brewery before eventually turning to 10 Barrel.
While Burnside was studying in Denver, Adams was dropping out of journalism college in Montana, then snagging his first culinary job, working in class at a dive bar in Missoula. After moving to Portland, Adams rose through the ranks at Paley’s Place, eventually moving to the downtown restaurant Imperial, Kimberly and Vitaly Paley, where he was promoted to executive chef in 2014.
Outside of Portland, most fans will know Adams from his run to the finals on the twelfth season of Bravo TV’s “Top Chef,” where he appeared alongside fellow Portland chef Gregory Gordet.
In 2018, Adams was able to harness that success into a place of his own with Bullard, a downtown upscale restaurant and sister cocktail bar named after the town in which he was born, featuring Oregon and Texas-inspired dishes.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Adams and business partner Jane Quest were in the final stages of opening the Huller Fried Chicken Show Selwood-Morland. Adams held out for more than a year, then announced in August 2021 that he had “made the difficult decision to simplify my life and move away from Holler Hospitality.”
“There are a million workers I got into[the reason I left],” Adams said. “But I felt like it was time to do something different. After ‘Top Chef’, I felt like the train left the station, and things went on and on, and then, with the pandemic, I was finally able to stop and catch a breath and think, ‘Is this what I really want? that I do?”
Adams soon launched The Royal Coachman, a “flyfishing pop-up chain” featuring selection lessons and menus that might look like the upcoming Grand Fir’s dinner club, which would allow Adams to work with smoked meats too expensive for brewers.
“I don’t understand how I can put rib-eye on the menu at Grand Fare for what people are going to spend,” Adams said. Ticket dinners for 12 to 14 people offer more flexibility. Among the first themed meals: a 1950s steakhouse with red chili baked potatoes.
Beer, food, ambiance, location
Burnside said her Grand Fir beer plan was in line with what she pioneered at 10 Barrel and Pelican, a beer that has developed a following and hooked up with the beer community.
“I plan to have a whole series of styles,” she said. “I’ll focus on West Coast IPAs, I’ll get classic Northwest pale ale, I’ll get coconut bush, export swan, Texas ale, culinary-inspired sour, and Bohemian pilsner.”
She also plans barrel-aged beers, but stumbles when asked about trendy styles.
“There will never be a smoothie at the Grand Fir,” she said. “I’m even hesitant about putting out the fog. I put out some of the fog, and they did a good job. You have to wait and see.”
Burnside said the beer program will grow in stages.
“We didn’t find the cans at all,” she said. “We are in an area that is easy to walk, and has a great neighborhood vibe, so we plan on doing a lot of sales from tank to tap. We will do most of our distributions from barrels, start modestly, and will self-distribute.”
Burnside acknowledges Portland’s highly competitive market, but said it’s time to jump in and chase the dream. She and Adams are confident they have the right formula.
“We want it to be a place where families think, ‘OK, where can we go for dinner?'” “Where mom and dad can relax and have a really great beer, a really great dinner, and have a really good option for our kid, and not break the budget.”
Whether he’s competing for “Top Chef” or running the kitchens of fine restaurants downtown, Adams has always been at his best when his food is very relevant. Some of the dishes he’s best known for wouldn’t be out of place on the brewpub menu – fried chicken, Texas red chili, and thick bologna sandwiches.
“I like smoke, I like chili, I like a lot of sour,” Adams said. “We want to be a place where people can go and have a really good roast chicken dinner. Or a reuben, or a fried chicken sandwich, or some repetition of putting in the fish and chips.”
And your powers, Burnside said.
“Yes,” Adams said. “And one thing we totally agree on is that we’re going to call our Grand Fair Suites.”
Adams and Burnside said they were drawn to space because of its location and capabilities. Music venue Revolution Hall is on the corner of restaurants, and the beloved Portland cheeseburger sandwich and sister beer bar are right across the street. The interior offers a 15-barrel brewery for Burnside, a kitchenette for Adams, as well as a basement space that will serve as the supper club.
They also eventually plan to add a take-out window to sell bottled food and beer, and they’ve come up with an idea for a coffee and takeaway breakfast. They plan to open in the fall, Adams said, and he envisions serving smoked turkey for the holidays.
The couple said the Grand Fir’s decor and branding is still in its infancy, working with independent designer Corinne McNeilly, who has done artwork for Elysian Brewing and Cloudburst Brewing in Seattle. Burnside said the aesthetic might subtly reflect the Grand Fir’s name, but “not the woods and fir everywhere.”
They have big dreams and plans, but the couple said they also want to respect the businesses and services already offered in their area.
“We have full intention to take advantage of the window of beer and food that lies ahead,” Burnside said. “It’s a great foodie strip, and we really wanted to think about joining that community. Across the street is one of the most beloved (for sandwiches) in town, and there’s a beer next door.”
They are planning a full drinks bar as well as a full service staff, rejecting the recent trend towards table-side phone ordering.
Burnside said the Grand Fir will have “direct, face-to-face service.” “We understand the app is very convenient in many ways. We don’t like it. I never want to go back to a place that’s like, here, order on this app. (Full Service) is connected, it’s familiar, it’s comfortable, it’s intimate.”
However, Burnside acknowledges that launching a new venture is “always a risk,” especially with “the potential for a recession, and a pandemic.”
“It’s always scary to leave a safe job in a safe company,” she said. “But you only live once and I believe – I know – that Doug and I have what it takes to create something really special and from the heart. That’s what we deliver. My beer, his food, the ambiance, the location.”
– Andre Monnier; Subscribe to my weekly newsletter from Oregon Brews and News, and follow me on Instagram, where I’m @oregonianbeerguy
– Michael Russell