Deep Goes Under

deepJody Denton is closing Deep.

The executive chef and managing partner of Merenda, cornerstone of the downtown dining renaissance since  it opened in August 2002, said his Japanese fusion-style restaurant will lock its doors after Wednesday night’s New Year’s Eve celebration, a victim of the economic recession.

Jody spilled the beans to me in a private conversation this afternoon. He seemed calm and composed, but perhaps a bit nervous, as we sat at a table on Merenda’s mezzanine level and discussed this turn of events. As we chatted, Jody dry-swallowed a couple of pain pills (“acetominaphen, aspirin and caffeine,” he explained) and fidgeted with the wrapper.

Deep opened to much anticipation and acclaim in June 2007.  “I’m quite positive it will resurrect itself down the road,” the chef said, but he hesitated to elaborate. He said some of Deep’s staff, including chef Cliff Eslinger, will transfer to Merenda, which remains open … at least for now.

Patronage at Deep exceeded expectations during the last half of 2007. “Everything was feeling good,” Jody recalled. But then came 2008. Even Merenda, which had seen a continual rise in business every year since opening, was feeling the bite, with each month’s take 20% to 30% down from 2007. After meetings with his bankers, accountants and managers, Denton “adjusted and tweaked,” eliminating half of his salaried management team and running “as lean as can be.” 

Two months ago, he determined that he would have to recapitalize Deep to carry the restaurant through 2009 into 2010. He presented a plan to his 12-member management team. “At the end of the day, the investor group was very supportive,” he said. “They wanted to make it work. But a couple of key individuals were unable to come to the plate after looking at everything.”  By mid-December, it was clear that Deep was doomed.

“Doing business in this town, compared to my previous big-city restaurants, has been tough,” said Jody, a star chef in San Francisco and Dallas before he moved to Bend. “The reason is the seasonal nature of the business here. You make wads of money in three summer months, from the middle of June to the middle of September, but the rest of the year is a mix of months with red ink and black ink. At the end of the year, typically, all the bills get paid and your bottom line is a little bit north of zero.”

I love the sushi at Deep, but there are other places to get good sushi in Bend. Kanpai, on Newport Avenue, stands heads and shoulders above others. No one besides Deep, however, serves sliced Kobe beef that you can grill on a piping-hot river rock at your own table. And I love the dragon rolls and chilled sake cocktails.

Rumors about the impending demise of Merenda and Deep have been circulating throughout Central Oregon for months. Some weeks back, when Denton rolled a U-Haul truck to curbside at Merenda to store furniture as he changed his upstairs carpet, the Bend Downtowners Association and a local television station showed up in shock, thinking he might be pulling a vanishing act. Not true. “The rumors have been going on it seems forever, and they’ve never been true,” Jody said, shaking his head. “Not a single rumor that I ever heard was true, not one time.”

Until now.

There is more to this story, by the way. But I’m sworn to secrecy until Thursday morning.

Stay tuned.



Filed under Restaurants

8 responses to “Deep Goes Under

  1. What a bummer. I thoroughly enjoyed my experiences at deep… great sushi, fantastic entrees, impeccable service.

    I hope this doesn’t become a trend whereas there are more and more empty storefronts in such a great downtown.

  2. Too many seats…much like the real estate in Bend this is a time for refocus and honing down on the core that can ride out tough times.

  3. Jill Putney

    Yeah, when a “U-haul” gets involved, it can make news!!LOL

  4. Elise Franklin

    Sad to see such a fine restaurant fold.
    Deep was chic. We don’t get much of that around these parts.

    I’ve been here since ’93, and I feel more Local each year. And I’ve watched the restaurant culture here blossom from, really, almost nothing. Jody Denton was a big part of that, maybe the most pivotal person of all, and to all of our amazement, he created something to do in Bend past 8pm! Playing in the house band at Merenda in August of 2002, I still remember vividly the looks on people’s faces as they strode in, dumbfounded that a 5-piece jazz band was playing live, in such a venue, in the heart of little old Bend …and the music didn’t even start until 10pm. I owned Local Joe at the time and we watched our business boost almost immediately, with Merenda’s opening. Finally, the men in our community had a reason to buy a nice shirt. And may I just say, “hallejulah!”
    For me, it was the moment everything changed. And sleepy, simple, Bend got just a little bit ‘city’.

  5. Lyle

    Someone stopped me this morning and said, ‘Well, aren’t you happy? You have one less restaurant in the town now.”

    I told them, “No, I hate seeing the demise of any other restauranteur. I know that Jody put his heart into it and I can just imagine his disappointment.”

    The restaurant business is not an easy one and you must love it to be in it. Between competition, raising food and payroll costs, high leases, an overwhelming amount of things to watch for and equipment to maintain, and the large amount of critics (no other industry has as many as ours both in print and online), you must maintain a good sales base just to give yourself an adequate wage.

    I know Jody worked hard to make Meranda and Deep go. And I hate to see someone of his calaber leave.

  6. Steve

    Thank you JODY, good luck!!

    I do not know everyone’s name so if you can add to the list of great people please thank them one more time.

    Tess you are beautiful! thank you

    Emily you made the last week perfect, thank you for the gift last night.

    Tanner you are about the only man cooler than the place itself, thank you

    Chris you are a Pro! thank you

    Mike you always have a good word and conversation, made me feel a part, thank you

    Amy you too made the last few days the best!

    for the life of me can not remember my favorite servers name, we hit it off so good and for so long, your smile, the hair… you even remembered my trip to LA for the summer… I suck you ROCK! you were very pretty last night, wow! a dress! 😉

    Marcus you get the MVP! totally on your game crowd pleasing play maker, thank you

    There are SO MANY more men and women who are what made this place so good that I just never knew, but I love all you did for us! THANK YOU!!

    I spent every evening the last week with all of you because DEEP was one of my happy places. I would not let a day I was alive pass with out being with you, knowing last night was it, sad.

    Alex without your water ceiling we could never been so DEEP, sitting with you this week was icing on the cake. thank you

    Last night. the last night, perfect!

    Randy and Valerie it was very good meeting you, your love is inspiring.

    Doug and Wendy spending my last hour with you two was one of the best hours ever! thank you. Doug you helped me to be inspired and hopeful with this wonderful town that gave all of us DEEP! thank you

    Good bye, DEEP, I loved you

    Steve Landry, owner
    River Bend Heating, since 1996

  7. Happy Hour Girls

    So sad to hear of Merenda’s closing. My girlfriends and I will be lost this summer without an outdoor patio/happy hour location. Bend sucks.

  8. Pam Stephens Tschiemer

    I am sorry to hear this sad news. Jody and I went to high school together. We all hung out together in school and had a lot of fun. He always wanted to be a chef and was cooking even then. In 1979 a bunch of us went to Galveston beach. Jody made a ton of spaghetti to take down there and we feasted!!! Oh it was good! My dog Dustin got all the leftovers.(!!!)

    We kept in touch during all the years he spent in USA and abroad critiquing his cooking skills from some of the greatest chefs in the world. This was his dream.

    The financial recession hit everyone hard. My husband runs his own business and the taxes alone are astronomical. I know the hardships.

    I believe Jody will rebound from this trial. His passion for cooking and restaurants was always his main focus… even when he was just a kid.

    Jody, I pray all will work out for you and your family. I know you will do it!!!

    Blessings, Pam

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