Restaurants pop up in shipping containers

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Articles - December 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
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Aprisa Mexican Cuisine in Portland used a shipping container as its building to save on costs. The restaurant spent $3,000 to rehab the container for its location on SE Eighth Avenue.
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The first thing you notice at Aprisa Mexican Cuisine on SE Eighth Avenue in Portland is the pride the company takes in producing quality drive-through food from scratch. The next thing that grabs your attention is that it’s operated out of a shipping container.

“Here is what is happening: The U.S. is importing so many things, and exporting very little,” says Kirk Lance, owner and founder of Aprisa. “We have these shipping containers being left in droves, and we are just stacking them up. They are becoming industrial waste.”

Not only are the containers plentiful, they’re cheap, and that matters in an industry where the failure rate is so high. Lance bought the shipping container for Aprisa for $3,000.

“In the restaurant industry, there is an extremely high failure rate. Three out of five restaurants don’t make it out the first year,” Lance says. “They put a ton of money into their concept and idea, and that ultimately goes into someone else’s building. If it doesn’t succeed, they forfeit all of that. If this doesn’t work, I can pick up and move to a new location, or even put it into a storage locker until I figure out what I’m doing.”

After Lance bought the container, he sent it to a rented facility in Scappoose to be retrofitted — a process, according to Lance, that took about two months to complete.

“It’s very inexpensive to buy the containers and convert them,” says Lance. Operating out of a relatively small space has its financial perks as well.

“We are financially feasible because our construction costs are one-tenth of the costs compared to other drive-throughs, like McDonald’s,” says Lance, who owned and operated two Mexican restaurants in Casper, Wyo., before coming to Oregon and opening Aprisa earlier this year.

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Aprisa retrofitted its shipping container at a facility in Scappoose. The container is inspected on site by the state for building code compliance. // Photos courtesy of Aprisa

“Our entire square footage is under 370 square feet; that’s all the space we are heating and cooling. Plus, we have no dining room so no costs incurred there.”

The shipping container is built onto concrete foundations, according to Lance, which means it is regulated like a building and not a food cart. The state inspected the container in Scappoose to see that building codes were met.

While Lance says he has been approached about franchising, this past year has been more about refining the business, which employs six, than expansion, though he is seeing steady growth in overall traffic and gross sales.

Beyond the quirky use of a shipping container, what Lance envisions with Aprisa is a down-home solution for busy families come dinnertime.

“In this world of two-income families, we are almost forced at times to seek out alternatives to eating at home as a family,” says Lance. “Eating out is one of those replacements and our goal is to replace fast food with quick sit-down food.”

MAX GELBER
 

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New_to_PDX
0 #1 Another great uses for shipping containersNew_to_PDX 2010-12-01 10:53:13
We lived in Juneau, Alaska and bought a shipping container to use as a "cabin" on our remote property. We outfitted it with a shower and toilet, small kitchen, and a large bedroom. It was insulated and had nice big windows. It wasn't as pretty as Aprisa, but it worked.
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Editor's Letter: Power Play

January-Powerbook 2015
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There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda


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