Husky or Maltese Whatever

July 30, 2004

By JACOB QUINN SANDERS
Portland Tribune

A talking husky and a dancing Maltese. Whatever.
The important thing is that the mystery is solved.
The Southeast Portland restaurant enigma, Husky or Maltese Whatever, does indeed have a story — and that story has an ending.
A discussion about the restaurant that purports to serve French and Italian food — whatever — yet never seems to be open began in an online journal and continued in the Tribune earlier this week. Web postings and e-mails leapt across cyberspace, attempting to land on any little nugget of information about the place.
At the risk of spoiling the fun of this imaginative guesswork, the restaurant got its name as the result of a miscommunication between the owner and her accountant — and the instinct of the Vietnamese former inmate who painted the sign.
The reason it never seems to be open is because the owner, Limin Tian, who goes by the nickname Abby, only opens the eatery in the winter months. In the spring and summer, she makes more money selling crepes out of a trailer in the shadow of the Fox Tower downtown.
“Just like there’s different kinds of dogs, there’s different kinds of food,” she said, making her first crepe of the day recently at Snow White House on Southwest Ninth Avenue and Yamhill Street. “If you have good food, people all love it. Same with dogs.”
Tian signed a 15-year lease for a restaurant in the Powell Center strip mall at Southeast 36th Avenue and Powell Boulevard, not too far from where she lives, early last year. Trying to think of a name so her accountant could register it and file for a county health license, she mentioned how much she loved her dogs, Sparkler and Fluffy, and how nice it would be to include them in the name.
“Which one?” her accountant asked.
“The husky, Maltese, whatever,” she said.
He filed the papers.
So she planned to change the name on the sign. The artist she hired, Tom Nho of Portland Signs Studio, argued against that. Something about Nho — his willingness to paint the sign by hand, his six years in a Vietnamese prison, something — caught Tian’s attention.
“He gave me confidence,” she said. “I’m never going to change it.”
Strange as it may seem, all of this is welcome news to Ronnie Cordova, whose Southeast Portland-centered online journal, Sublethal.net, first inspired inquiries into the restaurant’s meaning. Though he railed at first against knowing the true chronicle of the canines, he responded to an e-mail asking whether he wanted to know with a harried, “Yes, please!”
Sparkler is Tian’s 2-year-old husky, whose voice she keeps saved digitally on her cell phone. She says he can speak: All right, mama, I love you, mama, food and moron are all in his vocabulary.
The Maltese is 3-year-old Fluffy. More of a performer than Sparkler, Fluffy is inclined to stand on his hind legs, raise his paws in the air and wave them like he just don’t … well, you know.
Tian, 33, has a daughter and a husband and has come a long way since her childhood in China’s Hubei Province, but she talks more about the dogs.
Which is how all this craziness began.
And as for why her crepe trailer carries Snow White’s name — maybe you should ask her yourself.

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