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80 percent of Portland’s top-ranked restaurants have one thing in common

Posted by on November 27th, 2015 at 12:24 pm

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DOC on Northeast 30th, Lincoln on North Williams, Paley’s Place on Northwest 21st.
(Images: Google Street View)

In a splashy report on KGW.com last week, the much-loved Portland chef Andy Ricker of Pok Pok lamented the recent lack of off-street auto parking on the street where he built his fame.

Developers of Portland’s future Division Streets are “going to need to lose some commercial space to parking,” Ricker told the news channel.

If that were to be the case, it’d be a big shift for future players in Portland’s nationally famous restaurant scene. Of the 93 Portland restaurants in Willamette Week’s “Restaurant Guide 2015” list released this month, 74 — Pok Pok among them — chose to set up shop in buildings that don’t have any car parking at all.

Coincidence?

Of course, many or most customers at these restaurants drive to them. Though all these businesses draw foot, bike and transit traffic, all also rely on street parking, and in some cases on nearby paid garages or parking lots.

“All of the best places in Portland don’t have parking, and that’s part of what makes them great places.”
— Martin Cizmar, Willamette Week

But Ricker is right that street parking in Pok Pok’s neighborhood has become harder to find. So why are so many ambitious restaurants choosing to do business in exactly those spots? And why are they, to judge from Willamette Week’s enthusiasm, thriving despite the annoyances of parking nearby?

I asked Martin Cizmar, who edited Willamette Week’s restaurant guide, if his publication had perhaps disregarded restaurants in more auto-oriented areas because of his staff’s cultural links to the city center.

Just the opposite, Cizmar said.

“We’d really love to fuck with the urban elitists to tell them they have to drive to the suburbs to get any good food, but we could not in good conscience do that,” Cizmar said. “They just don’t have these kind of restaurants.”

Why not?

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Cizmar offered two main reasons.

First, he said, people prefer to spend money in areas that aren’t dominated by car parking.

“All of the best places in Portland don’t have parking, and that’s part of what makes them great places,” he said. “They’re in walkable areas where you have lots of nice density that people like. … You can walk next door and get a cocktail with their meal, or walk down the street later and get dessert.”

Second, Cizmar said, buildings without parking are probably better-suited to entrepreneurship, because they allow new businesses to draw on the foot traffic of existing ones, and also because parking lots are so expensive.

“When you open a restaurant in an area that doesn’t have other restaurants and doesn’t have foot traffic, you’re taking a bigger risk,” he said. “If you find yourself a space on the edge of town that has a giant parking lot, you’re risking flaming out. And if you’re paying to rent a parking lot in addition to renting your space, you’re also taking on a huge amount of overhead. … It probably doesn’t pencil out for almost any restaurant to want to have a parking lot when that space could be put to better use.”

Even in relatively auto-oriented areas like NE 52nd and Sandy or SE 64th and Powell, small restaurants like Cabezon and Rose VL have set up in buildings that don’t have private parking.

Once you’re looking, in fact, it starts to seem as if Portland’s independent sit-down restaurants have been trying to locate anywhere except a building that has set aside some commercial space for parking. Even in relatively auto-oriented areas like NE 52nd and Sandy or SE 64th and Powell, small restaurants like Cabezon and Rose VL have set up in buildings that don’t have private parking. Nearby buildings with parking lots are home to regional or national chain stores like Gustav’s or 7-11.

Garrett Peck, general manager of Imperial, said that when he co-founded Willamette Week’s “Restaurant of the Year” parking was not a significant consideration.

The most important thing for Imperial, he said, was the number of potential customers within walking distance — in Imperial’s case, hotel patrons.

“We were looking to capture the hotel business,” he said. “There’s 1500 hotel rooms within a five-block area.”

Peck said he previously worked at Renata, a Southeast Portland restaurant that has an on-site parking lot. Renata, he said, pays quite a bit of rent for that lot, but it’s not nearly big enough to hold the restaurant’s patrons.

Dana McErlean, who owns two restaurants on the Willamette Week list, said that when she opened her first restaurant, Yakuza at 30th and Killingsworth, it was in a building she’d purchased herself in 1999. She rebuilt it into her home (upstairs) and into a restaurant on the ground floor.

She said she never considered adding a parking lot with that building. When she opened her next two restaurants within a block of that corner — DOC and Nonna, both on Willamette Week’s 2015 list — on-site parking wasn’t a consideration either, even though curbside parking in the neighborhood is far scarcer than it was in 1999. Her main motivation was building the value of each of her restaurants by creating a hub of other restaurants and businesses within easy walking distance of one another.

“There is a really large community that commutes by bike or public transportation,” she said. “Parking lots take a lot of space … if you’ve got to park a couple blocks away and walk somewhere, is it really a big deal?”

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

The Real Estate Beat is a regular column. You can sign up to get an email of Real Estate Beat posts (and nothing else) here, or read past installments here.

Correction 11:20 pm: The photo caption in an earlier version of this post gave the wrong street for Paley’s Place. It’s on NW 21st Avenue.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Alain
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Alain

McErlean’s comment, “if you’ve got to park a couple blocks away and walk somewhere, is it really a big deal?””. This question should have been asked by the KGW reported, but then, I guess that’s asking for too much from KGW.

Thank you, also, for pointing out that Pok Pok (on Division) has no parking, yet Ricker feels new developments should have parking. At least, I think he means, new developments after other recent developments (Pok Pok) have already occurred. Brilliant!

bjcefola
Guest
bjcefola

Great reporting! I think Ricker is functionally arguing that the neighborhood would have been better off without him.

Trebor
Guest
Trebor

I have a hunch that what Andy is really saying is that he, personally, is having a hard time finding a place to park his car.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Ricker can take his overpriced Thai food and move out past 82nd if he really feels strongly about this. He’d probably find a cheaper lot.

In reality, what he wants is the city to provide subsidized parking for his business. That’s bad policy, and it’s not going to happen.

Adam
Subscriber

Great reporting, Michael. One of the main reasons I moved to where I live is because I don’t own a car and Division Street was walkable from my house. Being able to live in a single family home with density and commercial retail within walking distance is what makes inner Portland so livable and desirable. I’m also not contributing to the traffic and parking issues commonly bemoaned by residents of the neighborhood.

Adam
Subscriber

It’s certainly no coincidence that the most desirable neighborhoods in Portland also happen to be the ones platted before near universal automobile ownership. Back when everyone took streetcars, neighborhoods had to be oriented toward people walking since each trip started and ended with a walk.

mark
Guest
mark

Thankfully it appears this lie, that we need parking right in front of the door, is dying in parts of Portland. Parts..I tell you. I am all for private owners doing whatever they want with their lot. That said, if you need someone to pull up in front of your door in order to stay in business, your business is mediocre at best.

Sure, it’s nice to park a car in front..but it’s not needed.

Chester
Guest
Chester

Paley’s Place is not on 23rd

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

A restaurant with a parking space for each patron? Sounds like a drive-in.

eddie
Guest
eddie

It does me good to hear people complain about the lack of parking in close in Portland, and I’m really glad these restaurants are after foot traffic, rather than automobile traffic. Those who complain about it can go to the Spaghetti Factory or Denny’s. TGIFs. Beaverton.

Kittens
Guest
Kittens

Gross. Glad too see the tide is turning on Ricker’s popularity. Enough with the overpriced gentrified street food, “food porn”, novelty donuts.
I miss reality.

pruss
Guest
pruss

it seems there people are taking umbrage at Ricker’s desire for parking…but isn’t his point possibly simple urban planning? all that commercial development with no parking has led to what seems to be a miserable street to traverse nearly any time of the day. I have 0 issues parking 5 blocks away, but i’d think if i lived or commuted thru the neighborhood i might want some plan to deal w/ the auto congestion.

9watts
Subscriber

How will people patronize these close-in restaurants after the price of gasoline goes out of sight and we lose interest in paying to maintain cars? I just can’t imagine.

Anne Dufay
Guest
Anne Dufay

“I asked Martin Cizmar, who edited Willamette Week’s restaurant guide, if his publication had perhaps disregarded restaurants in more auto-oriented areas because of his staff’s cultural links to the city center.

Just the opposite, Cizmar said.

“We’d really love to fuck with the urban elitists to tell them they have to drive to the suburbs to get any good food, but we could not in good conscience do that,” Cizmar said. “They just don’t have these kind of restaurants.””

Wow. The kid doesn’t get out much, does he?

I think what Ricker is talking about is not the past (when upper Division was a sleepy place with plenty of parking – you know, back when Pok Pok made its name, setting up in a little shack out front of a house – back when you could find a parking place right outside Lauro…) or the present. I think he’s talking about the future, and reflecting on the fact that cities are always changing – what is typical of Division today is no more guaranteed to be Division in 10 years than any other part of the city is promised to stay the same.

The question is interesting – will today’s changes set up Division to nurture the next Pok Pok – or will they price up-and-comers out of the neighborhood – to create the next best, latest place, somewhere else? Time will have its say.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

What is this story even saying? Of course new restaurants have no on site parking — most buildings in inner Portland that are suitable for new restaurants don’t have parking.

It is entirely consistent for a restaurateur to open a new place without parking, yet to wish more parking was available.

meh
Guest
meh

Cizmar is the expert on this??? But also pretty much semantics, these places don’t have designated parking, but there certainly is parking in and around these places. And much like the apartments without parking, it just pushes the parking into the neighborhoods. Then it starts the whole entitlement argument about who gets to park on the streets.

Mark
Guest
Mark

pruss
thanks and i get it…but a small tweak to your statement that i think u’d agree with: merely building parking garages won’t increase congestion…parking garages largely aren’t destinations in and of themselves after all. but having built all those restaurants has increased congestion. and lack of parking has to be some level of strain on the neighborhoodRecommended 2

What sort of strain? Wouldn’t the group whonis providing jobs to the area via eating out have more of a right to public spots than the home dwellers?

Jason
Guest
Jason

I grew up in Chicago, and when it was time to go somewhere like Division (a busy commercial corridor) we didn’t even think about driving. Take the bus or the L. Why deal with terrible traffic? Why circle around the neighborhood for half an hour to find a spot 10 blocks away? Nobody does that. The other option, for more growed-up or affluent or suburban people, was to pay for parking which could be up to $24 an HOUR depending on location. Then, depending what part of town you lived in/if you had a garage, you got to spend another hour trying to find a parking spot near your house. That was generally worse because, unlike he commercial areas, people aren’t coming and going so much so there is less chance of a spot becoming available. There were always better alternatives to driving and parking for us city kids. The same thing can happen here. We can learn to survive without wasted space given to personal car storage, and those that can’t can learn to pay for parking. No big deal.

poncho
Guest
poncho

Let’s see for my birthday one year I went to pok pok on division because I wanted to try it after all the hype. It was literally a 2 hour wait on a Tuesday evening, but decided to stick with the plan. what did I do while waiting? I walked with my group to a neighboring bar across the street then returned 2 hours later and ate at pok pok. If they were in an unwalkable auto centric location, we would have just driven off to another restaurant.

The other part to this is the synergy with other businesses, while there is some competition with restaurants on a street like division, for the most part the presence of other restaurants actually helps a restaurant by making the whole street a destination and allows people to try other bars or stores while waiting or while strolling before or after a meal.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

A parking garage will not increase traffic and congestion. It will decrease both, since much of the traffic on and around Division is drivers circling endlessly while they look for parking.

If parking is extremely hard to find, then some people simply will not go to Division for eating, drinking, shopping, etc. Taking a bus, riding a bike, calling a cab – all of these are obstacles that deter some people.

This sounds like the start of an argument for more parking on or around Division, but it isn’t. Because, if lack of parking means some people are deterred from going to Division, to Pok Pok or Salt & Straw or Bollywood or whatever . . . and yes, they will be . . . why is that a bad thing?

When Division becomes too crowded, businesses will find the next new street or neighborhood to open on, people will find the next new street to stroll, eat, and yes park on. The next Pok Pok won’t open on Division, it’ll open on some other street.

That’s good. Portland should have many different nightlife, eating, shopping scenes, all over the city, new ones and old ones. We shouldn’t have one ridiculously over-crowded area that just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Anyway, with two hour waits, Pok Pok hardly needs more customers.

Robert Ping
Guest
Robert Ping

All the greatest neighborhoods in the greatest cities in the world have tight parking. Think about where you like to go on vacation. That is because they are people-centric, not car-centric. Cars take up room, they are expensive (to the community and customer as well), noisy and dangerous; not the environment for people to relax, socialize and eat.

I took some out-of-staters to Pok Pok last week during evening restaurant rush hour – by car. Even in this busy neighborhood we only walked three blocks to find parking, took a few minutes.

We don’t have a parking capacity problem, we have a parking perception problem.

Walk + Bike!

bjorn
Guest
bjorn

a year or two ago the owner of a sandwich restaurant I like near my work called philly bilmos told me he was worried because a new seasons was opening in the same strip mall and he was concerned his customers wouldn’t be able to find parking close enough to his restaurant. Fast forward to today and he has opened a second restaurant focused on pizza in the same strip mall. It turns out customers are good for business, and empty parking spaces don’t really create much revenue, who knew…

Emac
Guest
Emac

Andy may be spending too much time at PokPokLA. If he wants parking so bad he should build it, give it an Asian theme, over price the small parking spots and call it ParkPark. People will flood in just to say they were the first to park there. No but really if Andy wants to complain about parking on Divison he really only has himself to blame. PokPok, Whiskey Soda Lounge & Sen Yai Noodle…. He knows what up with that street, I’m just not sure why he wants to mess with what is obviously working really well for him

karl
Guest
karl

Since Andy Ricker build Pok Pok in a garage and driveway, he knows that space is too valuable to be wasted on cars.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

I’m mystified at all the people willing to wait forever to get into Pok Pok and its ilk. I live only two blocks from Division and avoid all the most popular attractions like the plague.

Mark
Guest
Mark

GlowBoy
Having first moved to Portland in the 90s, I can confirm this. The only reason to go that stretch of Division was the Nature’s store.This was, of course, before Nature’s got bought by Wild Oats … which then got bought by Whole Foods … which then (at this location) got slaughtered by that upstart New Seasons down the street. And there’s your SE Portland 20 years of history in a nutshell.Recommended 5

Love new seasons

Mark
Guest
Mark

Here is the funny thing… suburbanites love parking lots next to their favorite red robin. Ask them if they want a red robin next door to their house with a monster parking lot? Guessing they wouldn’t love that too much.

Parking lots cause lots of problems, draw crime, blight and need lots of maintenance. In snowy climates they also need plowing.

Tomas La Palella
Guest
Tomas La Palella

No parking? This would all be fine and dandy if Pok Pok were a neighborhood cafe that sold everyday food to people that live within a few blocks. But it’s not. It’s a world-renowned pillar of the foodie landscape and as such, it’s a destination for people around the metro as well as tourists and visitors of all stripes.

It’s nice that some people can afford to live nearby and walk / bike to a fancy restaurant but let’s stop pretending that these over-hyped destination eateries don’t negatively impact the areas around them when infrastructure wasn’t built to meet that demand. There’s something to be said for creating purpose-built retail and shopping areas that accommodate their customers; cramming more trendy shops and ice cream parlors onto Division is the opposite of smart.

While everyone’s patting themselves on the back, cars are being diverted down our Clinton bike boulevard due to food cart and dining traffic jams. Y’all need to wake up and come to grips with the fact that people drive to Divison– even bike-riding Eco-friendly liberal people– and the only group that’s truly benefitting from all this congestion, lot-cramming and suspension of disbelief are the developers.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Great response to the original article…parking is never free (someone always pays for it: you “the driver”, the business owner, your neighboring business, or you the “bus/bike rider”…through higher restaurant prices).

It will be interesting to hear of complaints about loss of on-street parking by owners of businesses in food cart pods (ex-parking lots). This was a case in the Vancouver’s downtown when a business owner converted a parking to into a seating area/ cart area…I assume such has happened in Portland too.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

As for WW’s restaurant guide not having a lot of awardees (high quality restaurants) with off-street parking…it is also a case of it’s Portland centric reporting [except for pot]…there are a couple of restaurants in “olde Oregon Territory” (aka Vancouver) that would make the list if WW’s circulation territory matched their “content” / “awards” territory.

Randall S.
Guest
Randall S.

It’s just economics: why would anyone pay for their own parking, when they can obligate everyone else to pay for it for them? It’s the same argument we hear when residents of a neighborhood want to force new residents to pay for the existing on-street parking.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Good point, Tomas, and well said. I’m not for more parking being built on Division (or elsewhere) and dearly desire the death of the automobile. But what your said definitely resonates with what I’ve been stewing over, lately. Please forgive the digression, all…

I’ve been thinking our new city motto should be Portland is For Other People. I was shocked to discover that–due in large part to the assiduous efforts of TravelPortland & TravelOregon–we get more tourists yearly now–just in Portland–than Barcelona and other major tourist destinations that are buckling under the burden of being other people’s entertainment. 8.6 million, just in Portland. Per year. That’s hospitality industry-reported overnight stays (so that’s not counting Airbnb, I believe, or couch crashers). The number of yearly visitors to the state now is 26.8 million (reported).

This would explain why summers, esp., here now feel like the entire world has descended upon us. Because it has! Well, a lot of it. 😉 I avoid pretty much the entire city now, much of the year, which is a neat feat considering I reside here. I can’t stand the crowds and the lines and the hordes of teeming people. I feel like a sad trapped rat.

I wish we would go the way of Barcelona and start addressing the downside to too many eager people feverishly consuming us/Portland.

http://www.oregonlive.com/travel/index.ssf/2015/08/oregon_shows_big_travel_touris.html

http://www.travelportland.com/about-us/visitor-statistics-research/

http://www.travelpulse.com/news/destinations/barcelona-mayor-elect-tourists-are-ruining-our-city.html

Spiffy
Subscriber

I was walking that area of Division multiple times a week when Pok Pok opened and I’ve never eaten there because the line was always too long… we would just walk a few more blocks and eat elsewhere and be done by the time we would have just been seated at Pok Pok…

there are a lot fewer parking lots than there used to be and yet there are lots more people…

people don’t care about parking as much as business owners seem to…

9watts
Subscriber

1,100 lbs of beets and carrots being delivered by bike in Hadley, MA:
http://www.bikesatwork.com/blog/how-to-double-your-bicycle-trailers-cargo-capacity

longgone
Guest
longgone

I’m hungry… Anyone wanna hit pok pok for some wings ?

Jim Labbe
Subscriber
Jim Labbe

I wonder how municipal parking requirements will come to be viewed once this new economic reality really sinks in for banks and other financiers. Perhaps as the real regulatory barrier to private enterprise and economic development?