After 20 years, Portofino Pizzeria says goodbye

The owner of Orcas Island’s longest running pizzeria had to make a very painful decision this month.

John Messinger closed Portofino’s doors on March 26.

Messinger and his wife Sami bought the business from Woody DeWoody in January 2009. Their daughter, Jessie, managed the restaurant with her partner Karen Shepherd until recently.

“When things weren’t as good as we thought, her partner got another job,” John said. “I left the Landmark Inn (which he managed) and came here, so my daughter and I ran it. When it got worse, my daughter and her partner moved to Virginia for more opportunities.”

Since Portofino’s opened in 1991, it’s been an Eastsound landmark.

“We have customers who have bought exactly the same pizza at 4 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon for 20 years,” John said. “We have people who come in every Sunday or every Monday for a family meal … but business was down about 25 percent last year, and it has stayed down. It should be climbing, but like most of the businesses on the island, we’re still feeling the recession.”

The Messingers have lived on Orcas for 30 years, and Portofino’s holds a special place in John’s heart. His son worked at the restaurant while in high school.

“It’s truly amazing, the loyalty that is here,” John said. “It’s a sad thing that I don’t have the capital to keep this alive.”

Sami is now the front of house supervisor at West Sound Cafe, which was purchased by Richard and Nanae Fralick and is set to re-open on May 4. John says he hasn’t figured out what he wants to do yet, but he will be “out beating the streets here pretty soon.”

He says the community has had “a lot of sadness and disappointment” about Portofino’s closing.

“I’m just one of many who have gone down or will go down in the future,” John said. “The economy is rough if you don’t have deep pockets to get through it … we hung on as long as we could.  We’d like to express our depest gratitude to our staff, customers, landlord, and bankers, all who tried generously, though unsuccessfully, to help.”