FOCUS: Hospitality industry drinks up
Portland's appetite for fine dining and tasty beverages supports a crucial sector of the city's economy that continues to grow, and restaurants, taprooms, brewpubs and similar establishments are a key piece of several new mixed-use developments underway.
Oregon's hospitality industry fills nearly 180,000 jobs, and one in three Americans had their first job in a restaurant. Nine out of every 10 restaurants give back to their community through charitable contributions, according to the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association.
The state's Employment Department notes that leisure and hospitality businesses employed an annual average of 206,000 workers in 2017 and the largest share, three-fourths, worked in food services and drinking places.
The National Restaurant Association's "2019 State of the Restaurant Industry" report states that while restaurant operators generally are optimistic about business conditions, they don't expect a letdown in competitive pressures in 2019. The economic recovery means the labor market is tight and staffing is a challenge, and recruiting and retaining employees will be among the top challenges this year.
On the bright side, pent-up demand continues to increase. Consumer confidence is strong and higher-income households represent a larger share of households than ever before. In addition, diners are looking for more eco-friendly options, a wider variety of cultural cuisine, healthier meals for both children and adults, and local food sourcing options, according to the association.
Local examples of these trends include the restaurants inside The Nines hotel. With a focus on food sourcing, the hotel manages honey production from its rooftop beehives, a rooftop garden with a water collection system, onsite mushroom growing and an herb garden.
Establishments that have gained national attention for local sourcing, sustainability and healthy and unique offerings include Irving Street Kitchen, which is recognized for its house-made food and ability to accommodate food allergies as well as recycling its fry oil into bio-diesel. Andina has been highlighted for buying its food from Oregon farms and establishing direct trade with a community of organic farmers in Peru. The Southeast Wine Collective buys its ingredients from local farms, including the Beginning Urban Farmers program. And Pine Street Market, which opened in 2016 in the historic Carriage & Baggage Building downtown and features nine of the city's top chefs, made The New York Times list of 52 Places to Go in 2017.
A unique addition to Portland's food and spirits scene, and perhaps one of its best kept secrets, is Oro Fino. Tucked away within the bottom floor of the Moda Center, the space was a passion project for the late Portland Trail Blazers owner, Paul Allen, and was completed just before the Trail Blazers took on the New Orleans Pelicans in the first game of the 2018 playoffs. Allen died the following October.
Built exclusively for the enjoyment of Legends ticketholders, Oro Fino was designed to recreate the exciting and mysterious atmosphere of the speakeasies of the Prohibition era, complete with a nondescript entrance where AA-row guests are buzzed in through an electromagnetically locked steel door.
Other new construction projects that have food and beverages as a prominent draw include the revamped Besaw's restaurant that opened in Northwest Portland's emerging Slabtown, and a brewpub that the Lloyd Center is counting on to attract customers as part of its multimillion-dollar remodel. Block 216, a 35-story tower in Portland's West End, will feature dining space as well as a luxury hotel, office space, condominiums and retail space. Construction is expected to start on Block 216 this summer.
Oregon's beer sector continues to support strong growth in employment and brewing company numbers. The brewing industry employs about 31,000 people directly and indirectly and contributes nearly $4.5 billion to the state's economy. About 369,000 people visited a brewery, pub or tasting room on a weekly basis in 2016, and that number has continued to rise steadily, according to the Oregon Brewers Guild.