Sponsored by Oregon Business

The Portland recipe

| Print |  Email
Articles - Nov/Dec 2012
Monday, November 05, 2012


Making money: "We don't talk about that"

Portland restaurants are springing up everywhere. But are they making money?

A few Portland chefs/owners were forthcoming about revenues — to a degree. According to co-owner Andrew Fortgang, Little Bird grosses about $2.5 million annually and Le Pigeon about $1.5 million. In 2011 Nostrana grossed about $2.8 million, with expenses of about $2.6 million, owner Cathy Whims says. At Paley’s Place, over the past 10 years revenue has grown 30% annually, owner Vitaly Paley says.

Among local indie chefs, it’s “almost taboo” to talk about profit, says Kurt Huffman, owner of ChefStable, an investment group with a stake in restaurants such as Ox, Ping and Grüner. “Corporate restaurants are the ones that make a lot of money,” he says. “But there’s the idea that we’re artists; we don’t talk about that.”

Independent restaurants generally net 4% to 6%, although many aim for a 10% to 15% profit margin, Huffman says. His group of ChefStable restaurants nets anywhere from 3% at the poorest-performing venue — “It’s not the restaurant people think it is,” he says — to 20% at the best-performing. Compared to other cities, opening a restaurant in Portland is more of a lifestyle than financial decision, says Bruce Carey, whose five restaurants in Portland — Bluehour, 23Hoyt, Clarklewis, Saucebox, Via Tribunali — “eke out” a 10% profit margin. Most independent owners are content making less than they could if they were in Los Angeles or Chicago, he says.

“If you keep your expectations in check for what you will take home, opening your own small, chef-driven, owner-operated restaurant provides an acceptable quality of life,” Carey says. “But it ain’t no get-rich-quick scheme for anyone.”

That paradigm is leading to a more favorable real-estate climate for restaurant owners and helps explain the Portland miniboom in hotel restaurants owned by local chefs.

This past September, thousands of people from around Oregon, the country and the world descended on the Rose City for Feast Portland, an international culinary festival celebrating “Oregon bounty.” It was another feather in the cap for a metropolis Knowlton says is one of the three “most exciting food cities” in the country right now. The ranking is based on new restaurant openings, “buzz” and eagerness on the part of top chefs to visit Portland.

Echoing the assessment of many local chefs and critics, Knowlton says the food in Portland restaurants isn’t better than in other cities, and that the city suffers from a lack of high-end, avant-garde options. There is also “a bit of a cookie-cutter mentality” in the replication of dishes and atmosphere, he says.

Food criticism notwithstanding, Portland dining stands out for its “complete package,” Knowlton says, from the independent chef/owners to the spirits, coffee, beer, “cool neighborhoods” — and the bicycles. “It’s a zeitgeist. It’s the Brooklynization of America.”

Fueled by a disparate collection of regulations, urban development policies, real-estate trends and that amazing bounty, Portland restaurants have become an international sensation. All that attention will raise the bar for the cuisine, says Boyce, whose wife, baker Kim Boyce, has opened up her own shop. “People came here because of the scene, and now the scene will expand and grow because of that,” he says.

Mike Thelin, co-founder of Feast Portland, gets to the root ingredient of why Portland is a restaurant leader. “Societally, right now food is the hottest thing,” he says. “And Portland is the hottest city.” 

Linda Baker is the managing editor of Oregon Business. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


More Articles

Car be gone

Linda Baker
Thursday, August 06, 2015
070615car2goblogthumbBY LINDA BAKER

Car and ride sharing services have taken urban areas by storm. Low-income and suburban communities are left at the curb.


Mayoral musings

Linda Baker
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
091515-mayors-thumbBY LINDA BAKER

The 2016 presidential election is shaping up to be the year of the outsider, with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump capturing leads in the polls and the headlines. In Portland, Wheeler vs. Hales is bucking the outlier trend.



September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ben Kaiser holds his ground.


Child care challenge

Wednesday, August 26, 2015
0927OHSUhealthystarts-thumbBY KIM MOORE AND LINDA BAKER

Child care in Oregon is expensive and hard to find. We delved into the numbers and talked to a few executives and managers about day care costs, accessibility and work-life balance.


100 Best Nonprofits: Working for equality inside and out

October 2015
Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Striving for social equity is the mission of many nonprofits, and this year’s 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For in Oregon survey shows employees are most satisfied with their organizations’ fair treatment of differing racial, gender, disability, age and economic groups. But as a national discourse about racial discrimination and equity for low-income groups takes center stage, data show Oregon’s 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For still need to make progress on addressing these issues within their own organizations.


Let it Rain

October 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015

This year has been so dry we were caught napping when it finally started to sprinkle. Hopefully you didn’t get caught in a downpour while eagerly awaiting — don’t deny it — our curation of Oregon-grown wet weather wear.


The 5 most/least expensive rental neighborhoods in Oregon

The Latest
Thursday, September 24, 2015
092515neighborhoodthumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Oregon's population is booming, and so are rental costs.

Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02