Burger built

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

 

0712 BurgerBuilt 03
 Quality ingredients and a limited menu define the LBB strategy.
// Photo by Matthew Ginn

When the first Little Big Burger opened in 2011, Micah Camden had already made a name for himself in Portland. Camden, a high school dropout from Salt Lake City, arrived in Portland in 2005 from Hawaii. He started working as a prep cook at P.F. Chang’s and eventually landed a job as chef at 750 ml, a now-defunct wine bar in the Pearl District.

Camden likes to talk about these types of triumphant events, such as when he explains how, at age 16, he told one of his high school teachers he was already trumping a teacher’s salary by running a yard-care business. It’s easy to imagine that, even back then, Camden spoke as though he had something to prove.

In Portland Camden stayed on as chef when 750 ml became a Cobras and Matadors restaurant (also defunct), where he met Dayna McErlean, who lives in the second level of a North Portland building she owns. McErlean says Camden implied he was the owner of the restaurant, so she mentioned how she hoped to develop the first-floor space of her building. Camden had ideas. “After 40 minutes in the space, he came up with the name and concept for Yakuza,” she remembers.

She provided all the capital for Yakuza, which opened in 2006, and Camden was part owner and chef. “He was the idea guy who put in a lot of sweat equity,” McErlean says. The sleek Japanese-inspired restaurant featured an award-winning burger.

During the next two years, Camden opened two more restaurants. McErlean loaned him the money to open Beast, a communal-table prix fixe restaurant next door to Yakuza, which Camden opened with chef Naomi Pomeroy (she bought Camden out entirely in November 2009 and has been the sole owner of the restaurant since). Then he and McErlean opened DOC, another small-footprint restaurant, this time with an Italian menu, located a block north of the other restaurants just off Killingsworth Street.

“There were plenty of times he worked without pay,” McErlean says. “He was committed to making the restaurants a success. But he wasn’t always up front, and at times it was difficult to be partners with him.”

When talking about his work history, Camden says he’s never worked for anyone else. “Except when you were learning to cook,” Poppe counters.

The restaurants received plenty of local and national press, with Camden as the face of the empire. “They were calling it Camden’s corner,” he says.

“We thought it was appropriate for him to be the face of the restaurants,” McErlean says. “But many people still don’t realize he hasn’t been involved in the restaurants for two years.”

In the summer of 2009, the height of the recession, Camden launched another restaurant in the compound: Fats, an English-style pub with a burger on the menu. He received $30,000 in startup funds from Portland investor Clint Elliott, the only investor Camden says he’s worked with during his restaurant career. Elliott eventually filed a lawsuit against Camden after the restaurant shuttered in the fall of 2010.

The lawsuit claimed that Camden neglected Fats and developed the Little Big Burger chain without Elliott, even after they’d been discussing opening a quick-service burger place together. Elliott says the case settled for $20,000 — $5,000 less than his attorney’s fees.

Camden describes the “Camden’s corner” period as a time of 90-hour workweeks devoid of the kind of profits he’d envisioned from restaurant ownership. “I was a cult of personality,” he says. “But the money wasn’t there.”

He says he got the idea for a “little big burger” during a street fair that celebrated Yakuza’s anniversary, for which he made free burger sliders.

In the summer of 2009, he approached Poppe at the bar at Yakuza; he was working, and she was a regular who lived in the neighborhood. They started dating and eventually decided to pool $80,000 to open the first Little Big Burger, sans investors. (The building’s landlord contributed $60,000 in tenant improvements.)

“I put all the savings I had left in the world into it, which was very nerve racking,” says Poppe, who has a bachelor of science in psychology from Portland State University, where she also pursued an MBA. Poppe was attending the Art Institute of Portland when she met Camden. “But it paid off because now I’m entirely debt free. We use the cash flow from one restaurant to build out the next.”

 



 

More Articles

Urban benediction

Linda Baker
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
072215 THUMB Credit-PontificalAcademyofSciencesBY LINDA BAKER

Charlie Hales has long viewed sound urban planning as the route to salvation: social, economic and environmental. This week, the mayor's city design philosophy got the nod of approval from a bona fide spiritual authority, Pope Francis.


Read more...

Urban renewer

Linda Baker
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
UnknownBY LINDA BAKER   

One year after he was appointed chair of the Portland Development Commission, Tom Kelly talks about PDC's longevity, Neil Kelly's comeback and his new role as Portlandia's landlord.


Read more...

Modern design defines new Portland indoor market

The Latest
Thursday, June 25, 2015
thumbSnøhetta JBPM exterior www mir noBY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

An international architecture firm known for its design of the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in New York unveiled its plan this week for a modern indoor/outdoor food market at the foot of the Morrison Bridge in downtown Portland.


Read more...

Reader Input: Road Work

March 2015
Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Oregon's roads are crumbling, and revenues from state and local gas taxes are not sufficient to pay for improvements. We asked readers if the private sector should help fund transportation maintenance and repairs. Research partner CFM Strategic Communications conducted the poll of 366 readers in February.

0315 input01 620px

 

Reader comments:

"I feel private enterprises are capable of operating at a higher efficiency than state government."

"This has been used in Oregon since the mid-1800s. It is not a new financing method. This form of financing may help Oregon close its infrastructure deficit by leveraging funds."


Read more...

The 5 highest revenue-generating parks in Oregon

The Latest
Thursday, June 11, 2015
parksthumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

In 2014, total revenue for camping and day use in Oregon State Parks was a little more than $17 million. That figure may even higher this year "because we've had exceptionally nice weather," Hughes says.


Read more...

Reader Input: Fair Play

May 2015
Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Former Governor John Kitzhaber's resignation in February prompted some soul searching in this state about ethical behavior in industry and government.


Read more...

Store Bought

July/August 2015
Friday, July 10, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER

Market of Choice is on a tear. In 2012 the 35-year-old Eugene-based grocery chain opened a central kitchen/distribution center in its hometown. The market opened its third Portland store in the Cedar Mill neighborhood this year; another outpost in Bend broke ground in March. A fourth Portland location is slated for the inner southeast “LOCA” development, a mixed-use project featuring condos and retail. Revenues in 2014 were $175 million, a double-digit increase over 2013. CEO Rick Wright discusses growth, market trends and how he keeps new “foodie” grocery clerks happy.


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