TROY DIXON DIRECTOR OF FOOD AND BEVERAGE AT THE PORTER
Words Merlin Varaday
Photography Tim Sugden
It’s a notion from a bygone era – a full-service hotel where your needs and desires are met before you even know you have them. The Porter (1355 SW 2nd Ave.), a Hilton Curio Collection hotel which opened its doors on April 4th this year, hopes to offer that experience to their guests. The interpersonal element is felt immediately upon entering the lobby, and is a philosophy that continues in the four (yes, four!) outstanding dining outlets on the property.
Troy Dixon is the Food and Beverage Director of all four: The Portland Exchange, a charming “grocer” connected to the lobby, Terrane Kitchen + Bar, a provincial Italian eatery which features fire-roasted meats and house made pastas, Chiosco, an adorable pizza window outside the hotel at SW 2nd and Columbia, and – last but not least – xport bar & lounge, which is perched on the 16th floor and boasts an unmatched view, international tapas and sparkling wine cocktails (see sidebar).
Drawing on 18 years of leadership in the restaurant industry, including four years as the Director of Food and Beverage at the RiverPlace Hotel, five years as the General Manager of Ruth’s Chris Steak House and two as the GM of Bluehour, Troy has already played a major role in taking Portland’s bountiful dining scene to the national stage.
What is the key to such an enormous venture, according to Troy Dixon? Human connection.
The Porter Hotel is open, as are The Portland Exchange, Terrane Kitchen + Bar, Chiosco and xport bar & lounge. What was it like to watch these four dining outlets coming together from a vision?
It was a really exciting to be able to watch it go up floor by floor! I joined the project about mid-July of 2017, so not a window was in place yet. Executive Chef A.J. Voytko, who I worked with at the RiverPlace Hotel, came on shortly after, so from a build-out construction standpoint, it was really exciting – especially with F & B – to see all the electricity and plumbing, etc. being pulled in, and to literally see the operation grow and flower from the ground up. That part of it was really special, because you don’t typically go from new building to new building. There are usually only a sprinkling of them in one’s career. It has been a lot of fun.
It’s a process that is still continuing today. Planning something on paper is much different than interacting in three dimensions. We didn’t really know what the reality would be like. For example, xport bar & lounge just blew up – we didn’t know how busy it was going to be!
What would you say is the inspiration behind the theme of The Porter’s dining offerings?
The inspiration and motivation is filling a niche that is still pretty wide open here, and that is delivering really genuine, authentic hospitality all of the time. I’ve always wanted that to be our bread and butter (laughs) – pardon the pun!
I think the main thing that drew me to this project is the opportunity to create a culture around service. We are seeking to corner the market on service. And that’s really what we are about, and what we are trying to lay the groundwork for, in these first few months to a year.
I’ve been able to curate an amazing leadership team for every food outlet in the hotel. Culture flows down from there. Working really hard to find the right people – people who love what they do – is much harder than just trying to fill positions. We have done really well finding people who are passionate in what they do and who really embody the spirit of service. They enjoy serving others. Skill sets and tools are all teachable, but finding those people who are all about that is really where our work lies.
Do you have an example of what that would look like in an interaction with a guest? What is it about the spirit of service that would make it a special experience for that guest, and would differentiate it from another dining experience?
Great service is an art form. It’s having everything that you need, and never having to ask for it. Great service is being assisted by someone who is profoundly educated in what they are doing, in what the concept is. In the best case scenario, the servers will know the menu and the ingredients as well as the culinary team. That’s really a huge part of what we are doing – basing a large part of our culture on education. That’s when you can really take the leap into greatness. Once the knowledge piece is down, and you have repetition, you don’t have to think about it as much. Now you can just focus on listening to the guest and trying to absorb their preferences – what do they like to drink? Is there anything they typically enjoy?
There is a point where you break through the walls of “you are a guest and I am a server” and get into those special moments where you can start building a relationship. In hospitality, the key to success is genuinely caring about people. Connecting with people emotionally is what it’s all about.
That’s what I have always loved about this business. The relationship piece. People choose your restaurant as a place to spend their money, and – more importantly – their time. They choose it as the place to share an important moment in their lives – a birthday, an anniversary or even a divorce! That’s the message we try to get out there really profoundly and consistently. It’s a special thing to be a part of the fabric of someone’s life. Hopefully, when they exit we will have left an indelible mark.
When people talk about fine dining, it isn’t a white tablecloth or crystal glasses – it’s that service connection. It’s the human beings that make it sing. When that is really dancing, that’s what makes a fine dining experience.
What are your hopes for these four food and beverage outlets in the first year of The Porter being open?
By the end of the first year, I want to see exceptional consistency in everything we are offering. One of the hallmarks of success – the difference between a good restaurant and a great restaurant – is that the great restaurants don’t really have any off days. There’s no B team. The service is amazing any time you go. That’s the one thing you can own. We can make a dish that is perfectly designed, but it’s the service that makes all the difference.