Jody Denton said he’s leaving Bend to open a Vespa dealership in Roseburg.
He’s not, of course. The executive chef and majority owner of Merenda Restaurant and Wine Bar is actually considering opportunities in New York, Miami and Sydney, Australia. But the mood on closing night of Central Oregon’s most significant restaurant of the 21st century was like the Fourth of July at a sadomasochists’ convention, a blend of pleasure and pain, of freely flowing wine and tears.
On Friday night — coincidentally, Bend’s monthly “First Friday” art walk — it was hard to force one’s way in Merenda’s door. Saturday and Sunday also did landmark business. Investors and longtime friends showed up to say goodbye to Denton and his wife, Michelle, and to the restaurant’s longtime staff of servers and bartenders.
Rumors persisted, as they do in this town, that Merenda may not be as “finished” as it may appear. Investor O. Jay Merrill, highly visible throughout the weekend, has within the past two weeks registered the names “Merenda Restaurant” and “Merenda Cafe” with the office of the Oregon Secretary of State. (Denton had registered only Merenda LLC.) Manager Michael Millette is exploring financial options that would lead to the reopening of the restaurant within a few weeks, saving the jobs of about 50 employees. Time will tell what’s truth and what’s fiction. Stay tuned.