Home News How can Portland sustain so many new restaurants?

How can Portland sustain so many new restaurants?

| Print |  Email
Wednesday, January 22, 2014

 

blogimg
Ken's Artisan Pizza // Photo by Alan Weiner

BY HANNAH WALLACE | OB BLOGGER

Recently, I joined a friend for appetizers at Ava Gene’s, Stumptown Coffee founder Duane Sorenson’s celebrated new Italian restaurant on Division Street. One of Bon Appetit’s ten best new restaurants of 2013, Ava Gene’s was also Portland Monthly’s pick for top restaurant of 2013. (“With Ava Gene’s,” food critic Karen Brooks said, “Portland grows up. But rock and roll never dies.”) So I shouldn’t have been surprised to find it packed on a Sunday at 5 p.m. But packed it was.

A few weeks later, I went to an industry wine tasting at Cathy Whim’s Pearl District boîte Oven & Shaker on a Thursday evening. It was fairly early — around 6PM — but the room was already buzzing with families, couples, and boisterous groups sharing wood-fired pizzas, insalata Nostrana, and bottles of chianti. After that, my husband and I went for dinner at Veritable Quandary, a Portland institution that’s been around since 1971. There wasn’t an empty table in the spot.

What’s going on here? Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled that Portland’s restaurants are thriving — and that a new place seems to open every week. About 500 restaurants and brewpubs opened in Oregon last year, the majority in Portland, according to OLCC records. As everybody knows, we have an incredibly vibrant culinary scene—with outstanding chef talent and unsurpassed locally sourced ingredients.

It just makes me wonder—who are these people who can afford to dine out several nights a week? They can’t all work for Adidas, Intel, or Nike — or some new tech start-up or innovation consultancy firm. Could it be, as Le Pigeon chef Gabe Rucker suggested recently in this San Francisco Chronicle interview, that dining has become our chosen form of entertainment? “People used to go out to dinner and a movie,” Rucker was quoted as saying. “Now, it’s like going out to dinner is the movie.”

Mike Thelin, co-founder of Feast Portland and a former Portland Monthly restaurant columnist, says there’s something to Rucker's theory.  After all, we don’t have the performing arts scene of L.A. or the world-famous museums of New York City. Where else can we compete with other world-class cities but in the food arena? “We’re the San Sebastián of the U.S.,” says Thelin, referring to the northern Spanish town that’s become a mecca for foodies. “The Food IQ in this town is so high.”

But dining out is more than a form of entertainment for us, it’s a pleasurable form of social interaction. And Portlanders, as Thelin observes, love to talk. “Portland is a cafe culture — it always has been,” says Thelin. “There’s nothing social about a movie.” We also tend to forget that Portland — especially the Portland metro area — does have its share of wealth. And it’s not just the influx of freelance consultants and creatives from cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, who still make six figure salaries but enjoy Portland’s less expensive housing costs. (Though they certainly do eat out a lot.)

“One of the biggest misconceptions about Portland is that there’s no money. We do not come close to the bottom of the list when we talk about household income,” says Thelin. In the last U.S. Census, the median household income in the Portland metro area was $46,090— higher than the median household income in Houston, Los Angeles, or Santa Fe.

While it may seem that Portland can sustain an endless supply of high-end restaurants, John Hamilton, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association is quick to remind me that 20-30% of restaurants in the state close within a year of opening. Some beloved Portland restaurants shuttered in 2013—Beaker & Flask, June, Metrovino, Riffle NW, and Wafu among them.

A winning restaurant formula has always been a bit elusive in Portland—it’s not enough to have a talented chef, killer ambiance, a great wine list, and locally-sourced kale. Savvy chef-owners are expanding their reach—and their profits—with second (often larger) outposts. Just look at Vitaly Paley’s always-packed Imperial at the Hotel Lucia, or John Taboda’s Luce, or Ken Forkish’s brand-new Trifecta Tavern. It doesn’t hurt the bottom line to have fabulous $11 cocktails on the menu, either. Instead of launching a second restaurant, chef Naomi Pomeroy teamed up with husband Kyle Webster to open Expatriate, a sexy bar with a simple menu inspired by Asian street fare.

The profit margins on alcohol have always much higher than  on food, especially when you're sourcing high quality, locally-sourced ingredients.

So the Portland restaurant scene is a bit like a Phoenix — a restaurant flames out and is resurrected, though often in a different location with a different chef and concept, from the ashes. I think it’s time to make a reservation at Kevin Gibson’s new restaurant, Davenport. (In the former June space on Burnside.)  Care to join me?

Hannah Wallace blogs on food and farms for Oregon Business.

 

Comments   

 
Guest
0 #1 Ross Pullen Culiary HospitalityGuest 2014-01-24 07:59:39
Ms. Wallace. I enjoyed your piece. In my business as a Food Industry consultant and former chef/restaurant owner I ask myself these questions all the time.Maybe some answers will emerge at FoodWorx Conference at Gerding Theatre on Feb.4. Until then,I,like others I am sure,is waiting for the other " PDX restaurant/athl etic shoe" to drop.
Quote | Report to administrator
 
 
Guest
+1 #2 RE: How can Portland sustain so many new restaurants?Guest 2014-02-18 20:56:13
I'll have dinner at Davenport with you!
Quote | Report to administrator
 
 
Guest
+1 #3 GuestGuest 2014-02-19 17:37:23
Great piece! I ask and hear this question almost daily. Its important to note how Portland's great restaurant growth affects other businesses. The proliferation of restaurants and bars is driving commercial lease rates through the roof. Higher margins on alcohol sales make it possible for outlets who sell liquor to pay higher rents. What this translates to is less business diversity. It used to be that you go out to a neighborhood to shop and dine. Independent retailers find it increasingly difficult to compete with both online discounting and lease rates driven by what restaurants and bars can afford to pay. We may be eating well, but we're driving independent retail into extinction.
Quote | Report to administrator
 

More Articles

Wheel man

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER

Les Schwab has put a premium on customer service since 1952, when legendary namesake Les Schwab founded the company with one store in Prineville. (Schwab died in 2007.) But if the corporate principles remain essentially the same, the world around this iconic Oregon business has changed dramatically.


Read more...

Spring thaw

News
Thursday, April 17, 2014
Spring ThawBY JASON NORRIS | OB BLOGGER

The “polar vortex” of 2014 seems to have finally thawed and we believe this change in weather will bring more sunshine to the U.S. economy as well.


Read more...

Barrister bands

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
IMG 4691BY LINDA BAKER

An intellectual property attorney by day, 48-year-old Stoll Berne attorney Tim DeJong is a singer and guitarist by night.


Read more...

How to boost web traffic

News
Thursday, April 10, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY  | OB WEB EDITOR

04.10.14 thumb seo-trafficSEMpdx hosted a workshop this week for entrepreneurs, website developers and others interested in search engine optimization (SEO).  Here are a few tips and tricks aimed at bumping up your search engine rankings.


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...

Video: Kickstarting Oregon business

News
Thursday, March 27, 2014
02.04.14 Thumbnail VideoBY JESSICA RIDGWAY | OB WEB EDITOR

Watch this OB Original Video about three Oregon companies and how crowd-funding "kickstarted" their business ideas.


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