business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

In Portland, Oregon, this week for the FoodWorx conference, it just so happened that I also managed to be able to attend the grand opening party for a new food market, Providore Fine Foods, which has launched in the city's northeastern quadrant.

And it definitely is a Wow!

Providore is the latest incarnation of a management team (Kevin de Garmo, Kaie Wellman and Bruce Silverman) that recently closed Pastaworks, about a mile away, in favor of this sparkling new location on the corner of Sandy Blvd. and NE 24th Street. But what makes Providore so unique and interesting is how it combines the operations of a number of different local retailers - Pastaworks, plus Flying Fish Company, Meat Monger, Emerald Petals, Little T Baker and Rubinette Produce Market - into a single 5,000 square foot location that seems more like an old-world marketplace than a modern food store.

Here's what Providore does that many food stores do not: It makes you hungry.

"Providore" is Italian for purveyor, and that's exactly what it does ... especially if you have a taste for oysters, washed down with a bit of Prosecco. Or maybe some thinly sliced imported prosciutto, or one of hundreds of varieties of cheese. There also is terrific prepared foods case, a gorgeous produce section, and a highly curated wine room..

The business plan works this way. The five different businesses provide their own staff and product, and share the costs of the building; there is a common checkout, with those costs divided based on percentages of sales done by each business. It is a structure that Silverman tells me is designed to be transplanted to other locations, either in Portland (a city with more than its share of foodies) or other cities; he fervently believes that this is a small store/urban concept with enormous potential.

For me, Providore represents an intelligent way to approach the small store concept - rather than trying to simply shrink down a big store, or (metaphorically) trying to jam 20 pounds of flour into a 10 pound bag, it actually creates a specifically small-store experience ... not doing too much or too little.

But for customers wandering into Providore, the business plan won't matter as much as the accessibility of wonderful food and drink, an atmosphere that makes you hungry and thirsty, and the ability to snack a bit even while you're shopping.

That's certainly what I did. It was delicious. And an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: