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• Albert Gentner

Managing director and owner

of the Mallory Hotel

The big difference for Portland's hotel industry between the mother of recessions here two decades ago and the current economic downturn is the abundance of hotel rooms.

About 1,000 rooms have been added just in the past few years, said Albert Gentner, managing director of the Mallory Hotel, one of the grand dowagers of the city's hostelries.

The bounty has meant fighting a little harder for business, Gentner said.

In earlier recessions, 'you could figure you would pretty much maintain the business you had,' he said. 'In this case, you knew it was going to go down because there were too many rooms available.'

As a result, said Gentner, whose father bought the Mallory in 1943, the 100-room hotel now has a marketing director assigned to generate income.

When business slumped further after Sept. 11, Gentner made what he calls a 'gut-wrenching decision' and eliminated the evening shift in the hotel's dining room, serving dinner instead in the cocktail lounge.

Still, Gentner said he thinks he can see the market bottoming out.

'At least looking at the numbers we have right now, it looks like no more than a 5 percent decline for January,' he said.

'I think the business itself is going to start coming back,' he said. 'The thing that I am concerned about, that could throw all my good hopes out the window, is if there are too many continuing large layoffs,' with corporations firing hundreds or thousands more employees.

Gentner said that could tip the country into depression, resulting in too many people with no buying power 'who basically are in real trouble.'

'That will drive the economy down,' he said. 'Then all bets are off.'

ÑÊJeanie Senior

• Bob Farrell & Al Fleenor

Restaurateurs

Bob Farrell and Al Fleenor are among Portland's most successful restaurateurs.

Both share a 'give customers what they want' philosophy, and each started and steered restaurants through the recession of the early '80s.

Farrell is famously known for starting the Farrell's Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlour chain that pleased palates across the country for more than 30 years.

He remembers when, early in the '80s, Farrell's executives wanted to open restaurants in Seattle, where Boeing had just laid off thousands of workers.

'The key was to run our places so well that when people did eat out, even if they spent less, they would choose our restaurants,' he said.

It worked.

'Business declined very little, they hardly noticed (the recession),' Farrell said.

His advice to restaurateurs coping with today's economic downturn: 'Give service, quality and value, and you will be successful.'

Fleenor, president and chief executive officer of Portland-based Pacific Coast Restaurants Inc., began his restaurant career in 1969 working at a Farrell's restaurant. He started Pacific Coast with partner Robert MacLellan in 1980, when the prime rate was over 21 percent.

One of their first ventures was to open a Newport Bay restaurant at Washington Square. Today, Pacific Coast owns 22 restaurants, including Newport Bay, Stanford's and the Portland Steak & Chophouse in downtown Portland. Next spring, the company will open a restaurant in the former Atwater's space on the 30th floor of the U.S. Bancorp Tower.

Fleenor, who considers Bob Farrell his mentor, subscribes to Farrell's philosophy that exquisite customer service translates into success.

Said Fleenor: 'Focus on the customers and employees and good-quality food, and people will return.'

Ñ Mary Bellotti