Burger built

| Print |  Email
Articles - July/August 2012
Monday, July 09, 2012

BY LUCY BURNINGHAM

0712 BurgerBuilt 01
 Photo by Matthew Ginn

Inside any Little Big Burger restaurant, linear murals in red, yellow and white splash across the walls as hip-hop music pounds with a bumping beat. The colors should look familiar; they’ve been co-opted by almost every fast-food chain for precisely the same reasons they’ve been chosen here. The hues make humans act rashly, impulsively and hungrily.

Go ahead, order. The menus at each of the four locations have just six items. The fries ($2.75) are spritzed with diluted truffle oil, and the burger ($3.25) comes with a beef patty that is thick but shrunken in diameter (the inspiration for the restaurant’s name). Top the burger with one of three Oregon-made cheeses, but don’t count on many more permutations. If you have a hankering for a salad or milkshake, for example, you’re in the wrong place.

Four to five employees work at any Little Big Burger at any given time. Minimal prep work for the limited menu means employees arrive just two hours before opening and leave one hour after closing.

Their efficiency has been carefully crafted. At the flagship Little Big Burger in Portland’s Pearl District, employees once formed burger patties by hand. But the extra time wasn’t worth the inconsistent patty sizes; now the burgers are preformed by SP Provisions, of Portland, the restaurant’s supplier of Cascade Natural Beef.

Every food item is served in a brown paper bag, which makes you feel like you should take your food to go. Should you? Owners Micah Camden and Katie Poppe hope so. Or at least they want you to eat quickly and leave.

That’s because Little Big Burger’s owners, business partners who are engaged to marry in August, unabashedly admit they’re selling fast food, a strangely shocking admission in Portland’s restaurant community.

In a town where organics, local-food sourcing, farm dinners, nose-to-tail butchering and chef/owners drive the popularity of many restaurants, those establishments frequently struggle to garner reliable profits. Not Little Big Burger.

Without a doubt, Camden, 33, and Poppe, 32, have inspired industry envy. “I feel like Charlie in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” Camden says. “I’ve got the golden ticket. I’m just waving it around.”

While a glut of burger joints have popped up in Oregon in the past few years, only Little Big Burger was founded by Camden, a provocative personality who made a name for himself by opening four small-footprint restaurants in North Portland within just three years. While Poppe is the quieter, lesser-known partner, she’s proven invaluable for execution and follow-through.

Still, to most people, these are Camden’s joints.

“The kid really thought through everything in a tactical way and called Portland’s bluff,” says Kurt Huffman, owner of ChefStable Group, a Portland investment firm that develops and funds local restaurants. “It’s super smart in a way most Portland restaurateurs would have been ashamed to do.”

For example, the Little Big Burger model doesn’t go to the lengths of Foster Burger, a ChefStable restaurant, which serves hand-cut fries, as well as house-made pickles and brioche buns. “We have all these high and mighty elitist ideas about what Portlanders want, but at the end of the day, people just want a good burger that tastes like the burger they want,” Huffman says. “In the food industry, we tend to get caught up in our own ambitions instead of making food the way people want it to be made.”

It’s not that Camden and Poppe have entirely eschewed the Portland ethos. “What we do has Portland flair,” says Camden, who speaks in rapid-fire sentences that make him seem as brash as he is captivating. “You have to use great ingredients in this town.” For example, Little Big Burger serves locally made buns that do not contain corn syrup; fries made from Yukon Gold potatoes; and ketchup from Camden’s own recipe. Everything is served in compostable goods.

 



 

More Articles

Back to School

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY CHRIS NOBLE

Oregon is home to an abundance of gritty warehouses reborn as trendy office spaces, as well as crafty hipsters turned entrepreneurs. Does the combination yield an equally bounteous office products sector? Not so much. Occupying the limited desk jockey space are Field Notes, a spinoff of Portland’s Draplin Design Company, and Schuttenworks, known for whittling Apple device stands. For a full complement of keyboard trays, docking stations and mouse pads, check out the GroveMade line, guaranteed to boost the cachet of even the lowliest cubicle drone. 


Read more...

House of Clarity

July/August 2015
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Holding a Power Lunch at Veritable Quandary in downtown Portland.


Read more...

Department of Self-Promotion

Linda Baker
Tuesday, August 04, 2015

061715-awards1Oregon Business wins journalism awards.


Read more...

Flattery with Numbers

July/August 2015
Friday, July 10, 2015
BY JOE CORTRIGHT

The false promise of economic impact statements.


Read more...

5 questions for ImpactFlow CEO Tyler Foreman

The Latest
Thursday, August 13, 2015
impactflowthumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Portland-based startup ImpactFlow recently announced a $5.7 million funding round. CEO and co-founder Tyler Foreman talks about matching businesses with nonprofits, his time at Intel and the changing face of philanthropy.


Read more...

Unshakable

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY BRIAN LIBBY

Ben Kaiser holds his ground.


Read more...

The Private 150: From Strength to Strength

July/August 2015
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY KIM MOORE

Revenues in Oregon's private, for profit sector maintained solid growth as the economy continued to rebound.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS