Food hub's other half set to open
As central east side warehouses are turning into offices, Ecotrust has bucked the trend with The Redd.
A two-block campus, The Redd runs along Salmon Street between Southeast Seventh and Ninth avenues. The west campus is a combination warehouse, shared office space and commissary. The east campus is an events space with a test kitchen and a parking lot which can be covered with a tent for big functions.
Redd West is a food hub: a distribution center for food startups that are too big for farmers markets but too small for the giant warehouses that ring the city and service dozens of 18 wheelers at a time. Redd East is a showcase for any kind of event, but with a particular emphasis on food. Preferably sustainable foods from within Ecotrust's Salmon Nation (the Pacific Northwest).
Emma Sharer, the Redd operations manager, came to the Redd from managing a national supply chain for a granola bar company. Before that she was with a grass-fed beef hot dog company in San Francisco. (She proudly served one to food writer Michael Pollan.)
Sharer was recently at a four-day boot camp about how to make a food hub profitable. She met people from D.C., Minnesota, and Vermont. Food hubs are sprouting all over the US, but Portland's The Redd aims to be different.
"There's a national presence of food hubs but this is a very unique model", she told the Business Tribune. "Most are nonprofits, we're for profit. We're all striving for the same vision."
Some hubs need more food processing capability, others do more wholesaling. The goal is to build a hub that fits into the market place and the ecosystem or bioregion.
"It's there to solve the problem of creating a new kind of food system. It's the right size infrastructure for any and all size food entrepreneurs to scale their companies together."
The Redd is a project of Ecotrust, which has been around for 28 years. Ecostrust's capital development team invested in the two buildings several years ago with additional private equity investors.
Slow food movement
Things have not moved very quickly. In the past two years the east space was hosting parties for the likes of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and the team behind the Green Loop concept when the building was unheated and relied on porta potties.
But on March 2 its time will come, with a very public opening. Part of the wait came because Ecotrust is a deliberate player.
"Our Food and Farms team did an 18-month long infrastructure gap analysis, all around the Pacific Northwest where salmon used to run wild and free, and interviewed food entrepreneurs on all sides of the supply chains — producers, distributors, co-packers — and found most of these folks wanted a central facility in the heart of Portland to get their product to the market. Our big advantage is we're close to big buyers, like OHSU, New Seasons, Kaiser — and the customers themselves."
Sharer explains the space's unique name: "It's called Redd because it's red, we're in the heart of salmon nation and a redd is a nest that salmon dig in rivers to spawn. We see this as a nest for the regional food system, and we also happen to be on Salmon Street, so it all just works out perfectly."
The Redd is a microcosm of the things it takes to get (healthy) food to your table.
The Redd's warehouse space has five anchor tenants: B-line, FoodCorps, Evergreens SoupCycle, New Foods Kitchen and Wilder Land & Sea. But B-Line is the main tenant. What started out as a husband-and-wife team delivering food by pedal tricycle to cut down on carbon emissions has grown into a 20-person operation that not only uses seven electric assist trikes and a regular truck, but also manages the warehouse part of the west campus.
B-line oversees the leasing of the spaces in the 18,000-square-foot warehouse. A former marble warehouse, it still has the ceiling crane on a gantry, but climate control has been added, as has a cold-storage facility.
Sharer says for the type of ranchers Ecotrust favors — those producing grass-fed, hormone-free meat — getting their goods to market in Portland is normally very difficult. For example, staff of Carman Ranch of the Wallowas would have to deliver to restaurants themselves, losing a lot of time. Now they drop their meat off and B-Line takes orders from restaurants and delivers the meat.
Sometimes chefs request cuts they want and the ranchers oblige, sometimes they take whatever is available.
The same plays out with seafood. It comes in either whole or fileted (not much processing is done at the facility) and goes out to markets and stores and around 100 restaurants in Portland. With all that Styrofoam packaging the fish arrives in, B-line doe a good trade in recycling it to the Styrofoam center at Agilyx.
Producers like Carman and Our Table Farms, a blueberry producer, are part of the "agricultural middle".
"As a food entrepreneur your dream is to come into a place and be able to run your company in the same place, so your supply chain is all consolidated into one building. Otherwise, outside of the Redd world, everything is separated... The Redd is a great way for folks to see how to grow a business with a local strategy."
For smaller suppliers, The Redd, B-line and New Seasons came up with Green Wheels. These are skinny green shelves on wheels that around 100 vendors have signed on to use. For instance, a hot pepper canner or Roam Oatmeal maker can stock their product as orders come in from New Seasons.
B-line loads them onto a truck and delivers them straight to the shelves at New Seasons, bypassing the more cumbersome distribution process. The sorting is done at the Redd, not at New Seasons.
"New Seasons said 'We're all about creating a local store, and we have entrepreneurs delivering, but we can't have individual cars showing up.'"
For the "value add" companies at the Redd making granola, drinking vinegar, hot sauce, yoghurt, nutrition bars, cold brew coffee, kombucha and the like, Franklin Jones, CEO and founder of B-line Delivery says. "We step in and provide receiving, material handling, shipping and delivery services."
For New Seasons, he says, "We're looking at 11,000 individual vehicle trips being saved."
The warehouse filled up in 2018. Next to the Green Wheels are a long row of units called stalls where companies have their rudimentary offices and packing space. They are really just gaps between the tall steel shelving with a chair or two and some surfaces. For instance, staff from Ground Up, a nut butter maker, label and package jars and prepare them for shipping. Those jars going to New Seasons go straight on the Green Wheels.
Ground Up cofounder Julie Sullivan loves her space at the Redd. (Ground Up is known for its second chance practice of employing women overcoming adversity, which can include prison homelessness and drug rehab.) Her stall just expanded by a few inches. At the holidays she had four people working in it meeting the rush.
"This is my second home," Sullivan jokes. In the old days she'd make the product at Pitman's kitchen supply just a few blocks from the Redd then drive it home and pack and ship it in her basement, then drive around town delivering it. Now she rents the Redd's large kitchen by the hour, packages the nut butters in the warehouse and ships with B-line.
"It's a super unique space. It's not cheap — it's market rate. But B-line is very affordable for distribution. Other distributors have a lot of fees and hidden charges."
She recommends the Redd to other food startups, particularly for the networking opportunities at the coworking space upstairs, and for Ecotrust's nurturing of small businesses.
Nike parties here
On the next block Jeanne Kubal, VP of Events and Engagement, shows the Business Tribune around Redd East, the events space. According to the fire marshal there's room for 672 people in the space, which now has full HVAC, a polished concrete floor and window treatments that work. The garage style doors open to the 22,000-square-foot plaza, so weddings and conferences can spill outside. Ecotrust were always hearing about the Pearl District space: there was no easy transition from indoor to outdoor.
A TV studio-style chef kitchen can sit 96 people, and is hidden behind soundproof folding doors. A 900-ton metal press sits in the middle of the main room, unmoved from its original position.
Kubal, told the Business Tribune, "The business model is about providing convention location for conversations around lots of areas, with a specific focus on food, but certainly the environment, technology and equity we want to see housed here."
Kubal is proud of the row of gender-neutral bathrooms, and the long line of gender-neutral sinks in the hallway outside of them.
"Equity from a design perspective is something we were thinking about," she says.
Many businesses routinely talk about equity and other politically correct concepts, but the Redd's designers have made such ideas concrete. The hemlock wall panels are Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, from Ecotrust's forest. Seventy-five percent of the catering firms they use are women or minority owned.
There's also a mother's room with a screen so they need not miss a PowerPoint slide while breastfeeding, and a small boardroom uses aromatic cedar harvested and installed by the Coquille tribe.
One large room with its entrance on Ninth Avenue is leased to a company which Kubal won't name but which is "Maybe something like an architecture firm..." A 1918 wooden sign they found under the siding, reading ALLIANCE STEEL ERECTION CO. will decorate the office.
Whether the Redd is an expensive vanity or a disruptor to the food system remains to be seen. As the conference and event side of the business opens and the public becomes aware of the Redd, Kubal is confident the place will be a hit. The bread and butter of many venues is corporate parties and offsite meetings. "Yes, there will be (big sportswear) parties," she says. "There will be a lot of (big sportswear) parties."
Franklin Jones, CEO and founder of B-line Delivery, explains how the Redd, which aims to be a food incubator, has also incubated his business.
"We were at a spot to be able to expand our footprint and to take a little but more control of what is housed versus not only what is delivered. It was a nice combination. About three years ago the pivot to offer a shared warehousing space in conjunction with the last mile logistics seemed to be a very good next step for our business."
Franklin always had the bigger picture in view.
"In 2009 it was two people and two trikes riding and making deliveries," he says. "Right from the beginning we were focused on using a centralized hub," to cut down the amount of back and forth they did. The modern trikes, which are made in Bath, England by Cycles Maximus, are used up to three-mile radius. Further than that and they use a regular van.
The bikes come and go from the Redd over the day in a rhythm, with Jones and his team trying to keep the boxes on the back as full as possible, so as not to waste pedal power. They're paid to carry interchangeable ads on the high-sided cargo boxes, so it helps to keep them visible.
One of their first clients, Organically Grown company, still drops 100 s of pounds of produce to restaurants, ships and Airbnb's around town.
"We're looking for clients where we could use their facilities as secondary hubs," he says, such as Portland Roasting. He's also looking at microhubs — say two trikes in a 500 square foot space serving a neighborhood, such as Kenton. Or mobile hubs: a truck filled with loaded trikes that then fan out over a sector of the city.
He's running a logistics firm, and that's a booming industry.
"There's a tremendous demand for last mile logistics delivery, including drones. Tree Hugger (magazine) had a story recently looking at the viability of cargo freight bicycles, UPS came out with a trike, and Europe has a number of cycle logistics companies. We're coming from a bootstrapped, food-focused perspective rather than from a larger company's mobility perspective."
It's a mouthful, but it could just work.
The Redd is now renting event space and welcoming the public to join campus tours the campus and visit its businesses, including Portland Pupusas & Taqueria. On March 2 from noon to 5 p.m. the public is invited to the Redd Reveal grand opening celebration to tour the renovated, historic space; savor delicious regional bites and beverages; and enjoy top-notch, family-friendly entertainment.
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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