The restaurant started out of a simple proposition – create a unique place which served gourmet food that used fresh local and natural ingredients and didn’t have any animal products. The words VEGAN weren’t plastered across the sign or on the menu. The food was just Vegan by nature. The restaurant had its roots in a series of very successful Vegan family dinners run by then Tabla chef Sean Coryell. Coryell went to great lengths to produce intricate and flavorful dishes using a wide range of exotic ingredients. Speaking with Sean at those family dinners you’d hear his absolute passion for the food.
Coryell enthusiasm fueled a nearly year long effort to build Nutshell. Opened in late 2007 and located on North Williams, Nutshell won raves from the Veg community and even won over some hardened omnivorous Portland foodies. But no sooner had it opened than the signs began to show that things were not well behind the scenes. An ever changing menu and constant experimentation by Coreyell and almost manic fascination with expanding the restaurant to Tokyo, Hawaii… “global man” created an environment where food could be extremely hit or miss.
Coryell’s departure from Nutshell marked a significant change. The menu with a thousand revolving dishes was simplified down to just a handful, the portions cut back significantly and although the restaurant was built with an open kitchen as its centerpiece the men and women in the kitchen made it perfectly clear they were all about business.
This week Nutshell made another turn. With rumors circulating about its demise and increasing complaints about the food and service Nutshell added butter, eggs and cheese to just about every dish on the menu (There’s even an egg on their pizza). With a bad taste already in their mouth this move infuriated the Vegan community and signaled another clear step towards the end of this once beloved eating establishment.
So what went wrong? Were Coryell’s eyes too big for the patron’s stomach? Did the Tabla team bungle things behind the scenes as they did with the Ten 01 opening? Or is it too much to thing Portland can sustain a gourmet vegan restaurant? (or even a Vegan Strip Club?) I think Portland can absolutely sustain Vegan restaurants, even a gourmet one, but like all restaurants they need to be well run. Just because something is Vegan doesn’t mean it’s going to be an immediate success and adding eggs to your plates doesn’t mean you’ll stay afloat. I’ll be surprised if Nutshell didn’t shutter its doors by the end of the year or completely reinvent itself (ala Ten 01).