By Vanessa Miali | CNA Media Team
Bernie’s Southern Bistro owner and operator Kellie Courtney moved to the Pacific Northwest from Chicago in 1989. She tried Beaverton briefly and then landed in Sellwood. But neither location felt right.
“I found the northeast in 1992 and bought a house. It made me think of home because it was a diverse neighborhood, and everyone was so friendly and talkative,” she said.
“I started Bernie’s Southern Bistro because the neighborhood was screaming for a place to walk to, eat at and hang out.”
To this day, Kellie feels very connected to the Concordia neighborhood, and attributes Bernie’s success to it.
“I love this community and I’ve tried very hard to build a diverse clientele of regulars who all feel welcome and comfortable.”
Kellie also feels connected to her staff. Turnover is typical in the restaurant industry, but she has held onto her employees. Three of them have been at Bernie’s upwards of 15 years.
“We’re like a family and Kellie is a big part of it,” said Angela Cavaleri, a longtime employee. “It’s not unusual to know everyone sitting at the bar.”
Colleague Ryan Gaskell agreed. “Sometimes we know everyone in the restaurant. I feel this is the best neighborhood to work in. The clientele is perfect.”
The name Bernie’s came from Kellie’s grandfather, who was her guardian angel and a caregiver when she was growing up. Throughout her childhood, her grandmother’s southern style cooking influenced her. Bernie’s fried chicken and collard greens are perfect examples.
“Most of our family trips were culinary adventures in the South. My dad was a chef who shared his passion and recipes for Creole and Cajun cooking with me.”
Across the years, Bernie’s has hosted recurring events like Bluegrass music on Wednesdays, Soulful Sundays for brunch and many Last Thursday celebrations. In 1999, Bernie’s opened an outdoor patio and expanded the restaurant. It also has added a happy hour featuring small plates of house favorites.
Bernie’s sponsors local events like the Fernhill Concert Series, a dining out initiative that helped build the playground at Fernhill Park and fundraisers for local elementary schools.
Bernie’s is celebrating its 20-year anniversary with specials throughout June and a new spring menu. Check Facebook for details.
Vanessa Miali has lived in Concordia for 18 years. She is a former public relations professional with two kids who cooks every day and gardens occasionally.