The 1920's and 1930's... Our building was originally a farmers market that was completely open on the front. Early pictures show a roadside fruit stand that faced a dusty unpaved highway. Immediately east of our present parking lot, cherry orchards stretched to Powell Boulevard. Neighborhood folklore said during prohibition, there were private card games in the back room. The northwest corner of 82nd and Division was part of the Weinhard Horse Racing Stables. In the early 1940's it became a huge floodlit golf driving range. The southwest corner was once a Piggy Wiggly grocery store. The last Rose City Transit bus stop was at SE 80th and Division. You needed to take a Blue Inter-City Bus if you wanted to go all the way out to Gresham.
The 1940's... Starting with a vision belonging to Fred Louis Sr., Wayne Leong, and Eddie Louis, the making of half a century was born in the Canton Grill. Our grand opening was August 29, 1944. In the 1940's the front of the Canton Grill consisted of windows all the way across the front of the building. The basic décor included Venetian blinds, stencil-painted plywood and canvas awnings. Each table had its own music selector that you could select songs to play on the jukebox. The building was about two thirds as wide as the present building. The outside entry was Pagoda-like. Then, the county allowed pinball machines in the foyer. World War II Service women and men really appreciated the warmth of their Canton Grill homecoming when they came home on leave. And do you remember Rosie the Riveter and Betty the Back-up? With the end of the war to end all wars, people finally felt they had a real reason to celebrate. Soldiers were finally coming home to rejoin their families. People had jobs, war rationing was over and there were consumer goods to buy again. When the war was over, people suddenly had money again and business was good for everyone. The Canton Grill was no exception. Folding tables and chairs were placed on the dance floor to accommodate the dinner rush. At 9 p.m., the folding tables were removed and colored flood lights were turned on to bring back all the nostalgia of ballrooms, mirrored balls and the jukebox with its big band sounds of the 40's and 50's. During this time, a federal tax was collected on restaurant meals after 9 p.m. Oregon law also required one to purchase and bring in your own bottle of liquor. Your name would be written on your bottle and you would purchase a set up (mix and ice) from the restaurant. When your bottle was empty, the restaurant could sell you no more. The Canton Grill's famous Honolulu cocktail made its way in the late 1940's. Old-time customers still automatically order a Honolulu before dinner. Honolulu's consist of gin and assorted fruit juices combined in a blender. In the 1940's, the Canton Grill became well known for its fried shrimp. It still is.
The 1950's... The Portland Oregonian reported in a February 1950 edition that the Canton Grill had just Air Expressed an entire meal for 12 to a John Zoller in Great Falls, Montana. Mr. Zoller wrote the food was "still warm when it arrived." Business was so good that in the May of 1950, the Dragon Room became an addition to the Canton Grill. Originally a combination of a second dining and banquet room, the addition made the front of the building the size it is today. The restaurant seating capacity nearly doubled. The Dragon Room's most famous feature was the sandblasted Dragon on a three-fourths of an inch see-through plate glass mirror that separated the lounge from the Dragon Room. In the early 1950's, Oregon law did away with bringing in your own liquor bottle and we went to selling drinks separately as we know it today. On the morning of July 5, 1959 all those dining at the Canton Grill will surely remember the giant fireworks factory explosion at 81st and Powell. Even as far away as Division Street was, all the glass on our Pagoda-like foyer structure was blown out. The most popular new entré was Sesame Chicken.
The 1960's... Competition demanded the famous $1.00 Family Dinner on Tuesdays and Sundays. The price included soup and ice cream. The Canton Grill was packed again. In August 1967, the "new" banquet room was completed on the last empty space on the southeast corner of our original property. The Dragon Room became the Dragon Lounge. This change and complete remodeling required the Canton Grill to be closed for six months. The now well-known life sized Ho Ti good luck statue was placed to greet guests as they entered the vestibule area. During the Christmas season, Ho Ti also magically assumed the role of our very own Santa Claus. Another change that came about during August of 1967 was the first of Canton Grill's anniversary buttons. Depending on the year that your Canton Grill Anniversary Button was issued you could earn discounts on your personal entrée in the dining room and lounge during August. Ever since our twenty-third anniversary, our buttons have become yet another tradition that continues on to this day.
The 1970's... The big in the 1970's was the Sing-a-long Piano Bar in the Dragon Lounge. A grand piano was fitted with enough bar stools for 12 people. People really enjoyed singing traditional summer camp and saloon songs. As less on-street parking was available on SE 82nd we added our first additional parking immediately south of the restaurant building.
The 1980's... The Canton Grill was in the forefront of selling people what they wanted in the 1980's. Our customers said they wanted a just right "one meal" portion for Seniors and Children. They wanted the choice to create their own meals. We offered our mini-combinations. People have always been very comfortable with our customer mix of families, seniors and young people of various ages. Friendly and personal service offered from the staff and owners have kept people coming back. In the 1980's, our second parking addition south of the restaurant was completed. In anticipation of extended construction of the widening of 82nd Avenue, we added a driveway access east of the restaurant from Division Street. We discovered in-house direct mail advertising in the 1980's. Customers got announcements on what was new at the Canton Grill several times a year and $1.00 off coupons.
The 1990's... The new menu incorporated items customers consistently requested. First a selection of hot and spicy Northern Chinese items came to the menu. Next came a larger offering of vegetarian entrees. Through all the menu revisions, we have never forgotten why people go out to eat: Hot and Fresh Food, Friendly Service and Reasonable Prices. In December of 1992, work was finished on complete remodeling of our two public restrooms and the addition of a handicap accessible restroom. The inevitable video poker machines arrived in the spring of 1993. To alleviate customer complaints about inadequate parking space, our third parking lot south of the restaurant was completed directly before the Christmas of 1993. Our main parking lot can park twice as many cars as before. Finally, our parking lot is much easier to enter and exit. Customers like the extra security lighting and the wildflowers. There are now four handicap parking spaces and two food To-Go parking spaces. During this time, the Canton Grill's Dragon Lounge added Karaoke for people to come down to show off their talents and have fun.
The 2000's... With the change in our neighbors at the intersection of 82nd and Division, we decided to extend the hours of the Canton Grill to serve lunch Sunday through Friday. With the current growth in Portland, the traffic on 82nd Street continues to grow and, fortunately, some of those turn into the Canton Grill. Another characteristic that the Canton Grill is incredibly proud of is the sense of family. As it has been more than 60 years, it is not terribly surprising to say that in this decade the fourth generation of the family has walked through its doors. Having been run in the same family since 1944, some of our customers have been known to come in and, when speaking to the current owner say, "I remember when you were only so tall and..." This road does go both ways. Some of our customers today were brought in by their parents and are now bringing in their own children.
We will never forget that we are in business to provide a quality service to you, our customers. Thank you, our customers, for your friendship and loyal support since 1944. We humbly appreciate your past patronage and know we must continue to earn your future business. We would like to extend our sincere appreciation to all past and present employees for the service that has made the Canton Grill what it is today.
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