When and how did it all start?
Michelle: In August of 2008, my husband and I visited Portland on vacation, fell in love with it and started making plans to relocate from our home in Ashland. We were looking to move up to the city and be around a more diverse food scene with more cultural opportunities for our daughter and more of a bike scene for my husband, Steve who is in the bike business. I was introduced to (Nel Centro owner) David Machado through a mutual acquaintance from another downtown restaurant. Dave was just starting to put [Nel Centro] together so everything kind of happened all at the right time. By the next April I had moved up here.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen over the last 6 years?
Michelle: I think what’s had the biggest impact on our business is understanding where our guests are coming from. Recognizing that we serve a diverse group of people: the business community, performing arts patrons, hotel guests, PSU etc. and that all those groups use the restaurant differently. Also, recognizing our patrons and how they use Nel Centro has really allowed us to tune into menu items, staffing hours — all of that stuff.
What’s your favorite thing about working here?
Michelle: I like our staff because everyone is really dedicated to hospitality. They’re a joy to work with. I also love our regulars. I see many many people that I adore who visit us on a regular basis, several times a week, and they feel like family to me now. Being able to be at work and have such a wide range of friends, customers, and wonderful employees — it’s really satisfying to the soul to enjoy so much of that.
What do you like about food?
Michelle: What’s not to like?!? I love Italian food and the diversity of recipes. I like exploring different types of food since there’s always something new to learn. I also really love the alchemy of food and wine together. That’s what really got me passionate about the restaurant business – how that can be an art form essentially. When you have a server who can recommend the right wine with the right dish it elevates both of these experiences. I feel like that’s what a great restaurant experience with what a great server does — helps you find those magical pairings that make everything better.
What’s your earliest memory of food or cooking?
Michelle: My earliest memory is probably my grandma making breakfast for me in the morning before school. Eggs, Canadian Bacon, Toast. Really simple but really satisfying.
What are you passionate about, other than your job and family?
Michelle: The city of Portland and all the amazing beauty plus the incredible food & bike culture happening here.
What’s your favorite Nel Centro menu item?
Michelle: Right now I’m addicted to chef John’s Spaghetti with the Dungeness Crab. That dish is very simple but all the components work together so well that if you leave one of them off the dish isn’t the same. Those Bottarga breadcrumbs just take the dish to a whole new level.
What’s your favorite cocktail?
Michelle: A Negroni, I tend to like bitter, intense flavors so anything along those flavor profiles I really enjoy.
What one word describes Nel Centro to you?