Goodbye Portland. Hello Eugene.
Food & Beverage scene serves up creativity that is uniquely Eugene.
Portland may have a reputation as one of the best restaurant cities in America, but Eugene’s food and beverage scene has emerged from its shadow and is demonstrating its own impressive success.
“People who enjoy eating and drinking their way through a region have a lot of options, especially when it comes to beer, wine, cider and spirits,” says Micah Elconin, who leads a food and beverage sector strategy team convened by over 20 local businesses. “The greater Eugene area is home to numerous best-in-class producers, offering delicious beverages in just about every style you can imagine.”
The community’s eateries are delivering on some of the biggest industry trends, which makes Eugene a great place for consumers. “It’s not difficult for our local restaurants to be doing legit farm-to-table service,” says Elconin. “We have year-round access to local ingredients. Restaurants are able to use a wide variety of high-quality foods that are produced in this valley.”
“What’s exciting for us right now is getting the opportunity to work with local food purveyors, breweries, distilleries and vintners on collaborations that complement the great food we’re serving,” says Angie R. Marzano, co-owner of Hot Mama’s Wings and Hot Mama’s Kitchen + Bar. Both locations use meats sourced from Long’s Meat Market, honey and peanut butter from GloryBee and many other local products.
Another trend that’s really taken off is the move toward dining spaces that are light, airy and open.
“I think the main thing people are looking for right now is feel,” says Colby Phillips, co-owner and operator of Tap & Growler, BeerGarden and the new PublicHouse pub and whiskey bar on Main Street in Springfield.
“They want to go to a place that feels welcoming, warm, inviting and relaxed.” Parents want places where their kids feel welcome, and Eugene businesses are doing a great job making spaces family-friendly, he added.
Eugene offers a great variety for foodies, as well. Dan Hughes, co-founder and general manager of ColdFire Brewing, credits the plethora of quality food establishments to Eugeneans’ openness and willingness to try new things. “I think people are a little more adventuresome and willing to move outside their comfort zone,” he says. “That builds a culture for small businesses to thrive in. Eugene has a pretty robust history of embracing the new.”
Portland has long been thought of as a capital for culture creatives. “But I think there’s as much or even more creativity in Eugene than in Portland,” says Hughes. “Eugene, in its own merits, and has really begun to show that it’s just as capable of being an incubator and creating really great goods and services that you’d usually associate with a bigger city.”
These qualities are among the many things that make Eugene a terrific place to be in the food and beverage industry. The community boasts more than 150 food businesses that generate $1 billion in gross sales every year, making it one of the fastest-growing economic clusters.
“We have a significant pool of talent and expertise in a number of categories of food and beverage manufacturing. Over 4,000 people are employed by the industry in just our county alone,” says Elconin.
Even more talent is in the pipeline, thanks to programs like the Lane Community College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management program, as well as the University of Oregon Food Studies program and Lundquist College of Business, which hosted a very successful “career in food and beverage” event earlier this year.
“There’s an incredible amount of collaboration that occurs amongst businesses in the area,” says Elconin. Combine that with the area’s history of food entrepreneurship and access to quality ingredients, and it’s no wonder so many food businesses get their start here.
Consumers and business owners can expect a lot more good eatin’ in the future. “The growth in tourism, tech, food and beverage has elevated consumers’ expectations and also contributes to more diversity, which is great,” says Marzano. “Consumers will continue to see more creative, local gastronomy with food and beverage pairings that enhance the dining experience.”
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