Learning from the Portland craft scene & Alma Chocolate

| Tags: Business, Creativity

As most of you know the studio is based in Portland, Oregon. Portland has become a mecca for foodies the world over. On our last trip to Tokyo the word was that Japanese chefs are flying to Portland to soak up the vibe and understand how this city could have produced such an innovative and brilliant food culture. The hinterland is organic, the atmosphere experimental and Portland people are on a journey to the better things in life. For good reason they are proud to be in one of America’s most “livable” cities and have carried their enthusiasm from  coffee to food carts to bike makers and beyond. One way of considering Portland is to think of it as the next wave of America.

It is a post industrial wave that focuses on the human experience and reveres craft. Not just the craft of basket weaving and ceramics but the craft of everything. Craft culture has combined with an enthusiastic rebellion against everything mainstream to question the value of mass production and the authenticity of brands. The energy for this atmosphere comes from the creative cultures of companies such as Nike, Adidas, Intel and Wieden + Kennedy, not to mention the hundreds of small teams and start ups across the city, providing inspiration and customers for creative adventures. It manifests in food culture as a willingness to consider the restaurant experience as both novel and profoundly rooted in Oregon agriculture and the deeper traditions of food, whether it be a reverence for France or a reinterpretation of Italy and Spain. Even the humble working food of Americana, the beef-burger, comes in for the Portland treatment. This is not a culture of consumption it is a culture of seduction. The latest addition to this seduction is Alma Chocolates, founded by Sarah Hart and gorgeously branded, in memory of her grandmother, in collaboration with our friend Eric Hillerns of Pinch. A long table hosts dinners featuring guest chefs who re-imagine the role of chocolate on our palates and her chocolate factory turns out Hedgehogs and Froggies. For your humble chocaholic it is a new vision of paradise and proof that almost any business can be recast as a craft business.

In our research we wander the world and seek out that which seems to be transforming consumer culture. Right here on our doorstep we have found a vibrant culture of craft that represents a real generational change in attitudes to what we consume. Food and chocolate (chocolate is food, yes?), beer, coffee, bicycles, audio electronics, apparel and shoes have all come in for the Portland treatment that elevates the human narrative, emphasizes the skill of making and revels in a mass market counter culture that is fast becoming mainstream. If you have been to Brooklyn or Tokyo recently you will know what we mean. Over the next few months we will be documenting some of these businesses in our home town, exploring the stories of how we came to create a real alternative to the mass marketed bland branded consumerism of the end of the 20th Century.

In Portland we see real signs of a new world. It is easy to be pessimistic about the direction our world is taking as we frack the life out of our planet and thousands die as they work in terrible conditions in Bangladesh making cheap apparel for Zara or The Gap. But a look at the counter culture in our own back yard reveals an opposing force that respects the world we live in and values the labor that serves us. And for those of you out there that have a penchant for chocolate, abandon that Snickers Bar, avoid those corporate Godiva Chocolates, and get a bag of chocolate Froggies from Alma. That alone is enough to elevate your sense of what is possible in the world.