Café Portofino building owners propose demolition following closure


Aldo Sarabia

Italian restaurant and bar Café Portofinos on Rivers Street Jan. 31, 2022.

Cameron Stuart and Georgia Dixon

The property owners of Café Portofino have proposed its demolition, according to a proposal filed to the Boone Board of Adjustment Dec. 13.

The Italian restaurant and bar, established in 2000 and located at 970 Rivers St., closed Jan. 11.

According to the Boone Town Council agenda for Feb. 3, the property owners, Rivers Street Ventures, LLC proposed “redevelopment of the parcel with a smaller commercial building adjacent to Rivers Street.”

About 50 feet of Boone Creek flows underneath the building, and as a result, it has increased debris levels and artificially elevated water levels of the creek, according to the proposal.

Goals for this project, according to Rivers Street Ventures LLC, include streambank stabilization, floodplain re-establishment and river buffer restoration. The project will cost $50,000.

Following the project, the site will be redeveloped for commercial usage, if the proposal is approved.

A post in Facebook group Appalachian Classifieds discussing the closure garnered over 500 reactions and 600 comments as of Tuesday.

App State senior Houston Holland worked at Café Portofino as a bouncer, and said at first, employees were told the establishment was closed indefinitely around noon Jan. 11, though no one was told why.

It was just kind of random,” said Holland, a construction management major. “I know everybody was a little upset that it just happened out of the blue, and they were out of a job, and we were all out of a job in the matter of eight hours or so.”

Holland did not receive a two-week notice, and as of Jan. 20, he said he had not received his final paycheck.

Before he began working at the restaurant, Holland and his partner, Jordan Farabow, became frequent customers of Café Portofino and developed close friendships with employees last year.

Holland said the previous employees had a Snapchat group chat called “Family Matters” that they still use to communicate. 

“I think that you can tell when you walk into any kind of business if the employees like each other,” said Farabow, a graduate student. “Immediately, you can just feel it, and you can definitely tell, even if they didn’t always enjoy their job, that they loved each other, and they were happy to be there.”

Farabow said their friends no longer have a central place to hang out together, but everyone they met there will stay in their lives forever.

For young female college students who want to go out to a bar, we just lost a really, really safe space to be able to go into,” Farabow said.

Because of similarities between the two, such as pool tables and arcade games, Boone Saloon manager Katelyn Hennesy said regular Porto customers, who are looking for a new hangout, have recently come to Boone Saloon.

“Since Porto’s has closed, we have definitely seen an influx in our business, in terms of locals,” Hennesy said. “That was like their go-to regular bar, and now they are having to find a new home for their after-work drinks. So our happy hour, around 5 o’clock, has definitely seen an influx in business.”

Farabow said she’s seen several local businesses close in the last year, including Café Portofino, while the number of apartment buildings in the town has increased. 

Restaurants including Dan’l Boone Inn Restaurant, Ransom Pub and TApp Room, were forced to temporarily announce closures since the onset of COVID-19.     

“The food and bev business in this community is really tight-knit, so it’s really sad to see all those people who lost their jobs and another great restaurant who closed its doors,” Hennesy said. “But in a small town, something else will open its doors, and we’ll keep on keepin’ on.”

The BOA will vote on the proposal Feb. 3.

The owners of Café Portofino could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.