A look at any of Portland’s most vibrant neighborhoods will show that food has been central to their success. In fact, food-based businesses most often are first at the table when it comes to neighborhood development and revitalization, according to Mike Thelin.
Thelin, co-founder of Feast Portland, said there are striking similarities between the design community and the food community, and the creativity involved in both stems from the same inspiration. He noted that food has played an essential role in Portland’s reputation and has directly impacted its built environment.
“You can track the development of neighborhoods around certain gathering places where people came together over food,” he said. “It’s usually the food operators, the bar operators, and the cool coffee shops and cafes that are the first to the table. And if there is a good restaurant, people will want to live near it and work near it.”
Likening Portland’s food-and-design dynamic to that in Brooklyn, New York, Thelin pointed to Genoa as an early driver in the Belmont neighborhood and the more recent influence of food carts in downtown Portland and multicultural cuisine on Northeast Alberta Street. Each created a unique environment that attracted other retail and commercial businesses and increased property values for homeowners.
Clarklewis Restaurant is among the pioneers that put Portland’s Central Eastside on the map, paving the way for a thriving district that merges an industrial and manufacturing history with newer tech startups and creative companies, he added.
With Pok Pok, Lauro Kitchen and Salt & Straw Ice Cream, among other big names, Southeast Division Street is yet another example of the synergistic relationship between food, design and economic success.
“This is a street that was kind of sleepy, sleepy for inner southeast Portland, and now you have five or six of the best restaurants in the city within a three or four-block stretch,” he said.
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