Burger built

| Print |  Email
Articles - July/August 2012
Monday, July 09, 2012
Article Index
Burger built
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4

 

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

The future of money

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
BY JAKE THOMAS

An ancient institution moves slowly into the digital age. 


Read more...

Powerlist: Meeting perspectives

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

BY BRANDON SAWYER

A conversation about the event-planning industry with sales directors from McMenamins and the Portland Art Museum. 


Read more...

Small business sales go big

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

BY BRANDON SAWYER

Sales of small businesses surged in 2013 according to the biggest Internet marketplace of such transactions, BizBuySell, increasing to 7,056 reported sales, a 24% increase over 2012, when they dropped 7%. Portland Metro sales tracked by the site grew 9% to 73, capping three years of solid growth. On top of that, Portland’s median sale price jumped 67% to $250K, versus just 13% to $180K nationally. Portland was one of just six metros tracked where the median sale price matched the median asking price, with sellers getting, on average, 92% of what they asked.

BTNMarch14 tableBTNMarch14 line


BTNMarch14 piePDXBTNMarch14 pieUSA


Read more...

The solution to youth unemployment

News
Thursday, February 27, 2014
02.27.14 Thumbnail TeenworkBY ERIC FRUITS

Because they have little chance of working for someone else, today’s teens need to be entrepreneurs. But, first, we must teach our teens that entrepreneurship starts small.


Read more...

Fuel's gold

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
BY SOPHIA BENNETT

The coastal town of Coos Bay appears poised to land every economic development director’s dream: a single employer that will bring hundreds of family-wage jobs and millions in tax revenue. 


Read more...

How to help your staff solve their own problems

Contributed Blogs
Friday, March 21, 2014
03.21.14 thumb coxcoffeeTOM COX | OB BLOGGER

During a recent talk to HR Directors, I asked if they saw leaders trying to solve every problem, instead of delegating to and empowering staff. Every head nodded. Every single one.


Read more...

100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon [VIDEO]

News
Monday, March 03, 2014

Screen shot 2014-03-03 at 11.26.47 AM

Check out interviews with employees from some of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon winners and find out what makes their company a great place to work.


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