Sponsored by Oregon Business

Sea change

| Print |  Email
Archives - July 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
0505sushi020BAMBOO SUSHI
Founded: November 2008, Portland
Employees: 20
Pounds of fish sold weekly: 275
Photos by Leah Nash
When Kristofer Lofgren decided to brand his new sushi restaurant “sustainable,” he knew he’d need to fight the perception that environmental consciousness comes with a higher price tag.

The 27-year-old restaurateur decided to open Bamboo Sushi in Portland in the same location as Masu East sushi restaurant, which he co-owned before buying out his partner. He’d keep prices the same despite switching to a menu swimming with certified, environmentally sustainable fish, a decidedly more expensive product.

To make a profit, he’d simply need a higher volume of customers.

Easier said than done in a county with 3,400 restaurants, many of which vie for the Bamboo Sushi market: professionals in their 30s and 40s with a taste for fine dining.

And that’s not to mention the ongoing recession, which has made meals out seem more dispensable, especially those involving pricey raw fish.

Lofgren’s strategy was simple. He’d hook customers on their first visit.

“We wanted to create loyalty and trust through certification and sustainability, not necessarily more customers,” he says. “The trick is getting them to come back again and recommend us to a friend.”

He reasoned that for some, sustainability would be a draw, but for the most part, customers would return based on the quality of the food and service, as they would with any restaurant.

Bamboo is the first sustainable sushi restaurant to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, but Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar in San Francisco operates under similar principles.



Despite a rising sea of awareness about food sourcing, other restaurateurs don’t seem to see success with sustainable sushi, presumably because the sushi industry profits by serving inexpensive fish, much of which is caught using destructive fishing and farming practices. Lofgren witnessed that reality as a partner in Masu East, an investment he made as an undergraduate at UC-Berkeley. Upon graduation, Lofgren moved to Portland to study environmental law at Lewis & Clark, but decided he could effect environmental change faster in the business world.

For most customers “sustainable sushi” means little. Through table tents, menus, a website and servers schooled in the eco-ethics of the fish industry, the restaurant invites patrons to learn about the term.

Much of the restaurant’s fish is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as non-endangered species harvested by environmentally friendly methods. And Bamboo doesn’t serve seafood that appears on the “avoid” lists of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute.

“Every fish can be tracked to the boat where it came from,” says the restaurant’s executive chef, Brandon Hill.

Getting that caliber of fish to Portland was one of the greatest challenges in opening Bamboo. Hill and Lofgren forged a relationship with Northwest seafood vendor Ocean Beauty Seafoods, which agreed to import sustainably certified fish in exchange for bulk ordering.

By purchasing nitrogen-frozen fish in quantity, the restaurant saves on high freight costs, a practice that shrinks its carbon footprint, Lofgren says.

Bamboo Sushi opened last fall amid an economic downturn that continues to push many Portland restaurants out of business. While Lofgren won’t disclose revenue figures, he says the restaurant has had successively more patrons each month.

Lofgren hopes the numbers become a step toward his ultimate goal: operating a sustainable business long-term. He recently visited Chez Panisse in Berkeley, the kind of 38-year-old, ecologically sound restaurant that inspires young restaurateurs to wax philosophical.

“They’re still doing something interesting and relevant,” he says. “The idea is not necessarily growth, but innovation and evolution.”

More Articles

More Than Meets the Eye

Guest Blog
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Janet Yellen official Federal Reserve portrait-thumbBY JASON NORRIS | CFA

On September 17, the much anticipated Fed decision was delivered and the equity markets haven't liked it.


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.


Back to School

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

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. 


Downtime with Jill Nelson

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Live, Work, Play wit the CEO of Ruby Receptionists.


The Cover Story

Linda Baker
Thursday, August 27, 2015
01-cover-0915-thumbBY LINDA BAKER

How do you put a baby on the cover of a business magazine without it looking too cutesy?


Counterpoint: CLT not as green as people think

Contributed Blogs
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
photo-flickr-glasseyes viewthymbBY GREGG LEWIS | OP-ED

The issue of green-washing remains a significant challenge to those of us who would like to see the building sector in this country do more than make unverifiable claims of sustainability. Transparency about the impacts of a given material is the only way to allow designers to make intelligent choices when selecting building products.


Up on the Roof

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In 2010 Vanessa Keitges and several investors purchased Portland-based Columbia Green Technologies, a green-roof company. The 13-person firm has a 200% annual growth rate, exports 30% of its product to Canada and received its first infusion of venture capital in 2014 from Yaletown Venture Partners. CEO Keitges, 40, a Southern Oregon native who serves on President Obama’s Export Council, talks about market innovation, scaling small business and why Oregon is falling behind in green-roof construction. 

Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02