Rising Star Restaurateur Kurt Huffman - Biography

November 2011

Kurt Huffman is a Portland boy, born and raised. It’s not that he’s being coy when he describes his restaurant group ChefStable—the one behind Grüner, and St. Jack, to name but two—as “a small company.” It’s that he gets what Portland is all about: chef-driven, independent concepts. He applies his business acumen to ensure that each of his restaurants has its own identity. And it has paid off. From James Beard-nominated Chris Israel’s Grüner to Andy Ricker’s Ping and 2011 Portland Rising Star Aaron Barnett’s French bistro-themed St. Jack, everything he touches turns to business success.

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. It began with Chef Andy Ricker who had just started Pok Pok in 2006 and was looking to open another restaurant. Huffman and Ricker teamed up and opened Ping. From there the business grew by word of mouth. Ricker introduced Huffman to Chris Israel, and Alpine restaurant Grüner was born. Portland Rising Star Chef Aaron Barnett had worked with Israel, so when he decided to open up a French bistro St. Jack, he turned to Huffman to develop the concept. Now that ChefStable boasts Grüner, Voss Burger, Whiskey Soda Lounge, St. Jack, Wafu, and Oven and Shaker, the 2011 Portland Rising Star restaurateur’s chef-driven influence is expanding.