Three nights midweek, David Lacy can be found behind the curved bar at Portland’s acclaimed Fore Street restaurant.
Or in the dining room after picking up a serving shift.
Or cocktailing or hosting in a pinch.
With 11 years of seniority, Lacy works his own scheduled shifts and helps out with openings as the need arises. The flexibility allows for weekends off and a routine lifestyle, unlike the industry norm.
Lacy, 43, has been a familiar face in Portland’s hospitality community for 25 years. Inspired at 19 by a hands-on working manager at Margarita’s on St. John’s Street, he credits his boss with being approachable, hard-working, and not above helping out where needed. For Lacy, it set the standard of what management should be.
“One minute, he’d be washing dishes,” Lacy said. “Next, he’d be clearing tables or out back rolling burritos. I would do anything for that guy because he respected us. If I worked hard, he’d do anything for me.”
A few restaurants and many years later, Lacy asked to be trained in various front-of-the-house positions at Fore Street. Policy there is new FOH hires start with one set shift a week; additional shifts can be picked up as they become available, either because of requests for time off or more rarely, employee turnover.
During the years between Margarita’s and Fore Street, Lacy worked at Natasha’s on Portland and then Exchange streets. He recalled the latter had the first chef he knew who was “truly passionate about food” and the art of presentation. The work ethic learned at Margarita’s, and the next-level-up experiences at Natasha’s are what guide him today.
Lacy’s other professional influences come from a bartending and serving stint in San Francisco, and from his father, who was a server at the upscale Gaslight on Exchange Street in the 1970s. As a child, Lacy watched him make tableside Caesar salads and cherries jubilee but thought he’d go to college and end up in a different field.
“There are times I’m surprised that at 43 years old, I’m still doing this,” he said. “But, the pace keeps me from growing bored. I do have lovely regular customers, people I see every week. Then, others come monthly, and then, the snowbirds. I love when I see people year after year, who travel. And, I’m not in this to design craft cocktails, I’m in it to talk with people and for the gratification of serving food and wine I’m so proud to be associated with.”
Natasha’s, the places in San Francisco, and even Fore Street can all be described as small, personable, and intimate, which appeals to Lacy.
“I’m kind of old school, I guess,” he said. “I like the graciousness of handwritten gift certificates, our daily printed menus. I write checks, and don’t even use banking apps.”
Lacy said “perceived value” drives his own dining choices.
An exquisite small plate at Central Provisions may be well worth $18 for the quality food, art, and craftsmanship, but Forest Avenue House of Pizza, reminiscent of the Lisbon HOP, is one of his favorites. The Otherside Deli, rather than someplace trendy for trendy’s sake, is his brunch house, as is Bird & Co. for $5 happy hour margaritas. For everything fine dining should be, Lacy looks to Fore Street’s sister restaurant, Scales, calling it “light, airy and interesting.”
When asked what he thinks has changed the most in the industry, Lacy smiled.
“There are business things I guess, tightening because of costs and staffing in a lot of places,” he said. “But I don’t really think much has changed deep down. People want to be treated kindly, to be attended to, talked to. Just like always.”
While a well-managed place with high standards of service and outstanding food are his work requirements, Lacy, his partner, and their dog Luna hope to leave Portland someday. With housing in the city unaffordable, his dream is to commute to Fore Street for three shifts a week from four acres of land and a small house on Bryant Pond.
Until then, Lacy can be found at the beach with Luna, playing tennis, reading, and of course, behind the bar at Fore Street. He’s the familiar one with a big smile, showing us what being at the top of your game looks like.