From Montavilla Gym Rat to Successful Restaurateur

Doug Lee, class of ‘75, grew up on a dirt road just South of Madison High School and, as the last of seven children, had to figure out how to feed and take care of himself when he came home after school to an empty house at age five. His mom supported the last half of the seven kids, three boys and one girl, by working six days a week doing piece work at Jantzen, the first big apparel company in Portland many of you might remember. They were poor and remained poor throughout most of his upbringing so if he needed or wanted something, he needed to earn money someway, somehow, or go without.

Montavilla Park and Community Center was where Doug learned a good deal about life and, although he turned out very successful, considers himself a “wild child” and shared that he roamed NE doing a multitude of stuff he is not proud of today. However, as wise men say, those regrettable things you did then, form who you are today, “So I guess I wouldn’t change a thing as I have a loving wife, children and grandchildren and doing better than I deserve.”

Madison High School allowed Doug to see another side of life as he met and mingled with people from different backgrounds, families that looked very different than his, and made lifelong friends like many of us did. “I’ve been blessed to have a continuous growing friendship with a number of Madison alumni, both guys and gals.”

Doug had never worked in a restaurant in his life before opening a small Italian cafe in Lake Oswego, Speedy Linguine, opening just prior to he and his wife Wendy having their first child. They called him crazy for opening a business with zero knowledge or experience in a business which typically ends in failure after the first two years.

Jefe restaurant photo
Jefe Mexican restaurant, Lake Oswego

“The learning curve was steep to say the least. I pretty much convinced myself that failure wasn’t an option, so I learned, worked myself to the bone, and have never had a restaurant fail,” said Doug. “I’ve sold a few restaurants. We rebranded a couple others and we are now running three restaurants and an event space.” Jefe and Holy Taco in Lake Oswego, La Industria, and his event space in Tualatin named after his mom, Saint Irene’s, are his pride and legacy today.

Covid has obviously been life changing for a lot of businesses, but probably none more than restaurants and gathering spaces. “I have all my eggs in those two baskets so I’m pretty sure I’m an expert on how to survive a worldwide pandemic,” Doug said laughing. “We remain solid and vibrant even after losing a huge amount of revenue after temporarily closing down all four businesses and then only opening under ridiculous circumstances and conditions which made it almost impossible to survive. Somehow my philosophy of never spending money I don’t have, and always keeping significant reserves to carry you through a downtime for up to a couple of years, had paid off in a situation like Covid.” Obviously lessons he learned growing up anything but privileged in NE Portland.

“I won’t go into politics here, other than let’s just say I want a new governor and better leadership across the board in our great state, all the cities of Oregon. I’ll leave it at that,” Doug stated.

Holy Taco restaurant
Holy Taco restaurant, Lake Oswego

Restaurants are evolving as one would expect with more delivery, takeout, and ghost kitchens. Doug’s business model is cloth napkin, full service, with pretty and delicious nutritious food made fresh from scratch. Friendly service is his trademark and reputation, and he is sticking with it. “Yes, we will do more takeout but that’s not what we love about our restaurants. We truly love making it a special place to escape and enjoy friends and family.”

Doug is a humble man who will not tell you how great of an athlete he was, but this writer can tell you from playing against him and watching him play baseball and basketball, he had some of the top skills in a class loaded with talented athletes. I asked him to share one fun story from Madison athletics. This was his response. “I remember the good, old times of freshman football daily doubles. We were not allowed to drink water, and we had to take salt tablets. We would end practice by running hills where inevitably someone would throw up.”

Below is a list of Doug’s restaurants by web address. We highly encourage you to visit and support a great alumnus that has never shied away from giving and helping those less fortunate than himself. I personally have worked with Doug for more than twenty years on Madison fundraisers. Let’s show our support!