Published April 27, 2022
Chris James is business development director for LaTrelle's Management Corporation, which partners with the Portland-born Stumptown Coffee Roasters to operate two cafes at PDX: one in the security lobby between Concourses C and D, and another in Concourse E. (A third location is coming to Concourse D soon.)
Houston-based LaTrelle’s, founded by Chris’s grandfather in 1985, manages locations for 13 regional and national brands (Wendy's, Potbelly, Peet's Coffee) at five airports, but it's still run like a family business. PDX talked to Chris—who grew up visiting family in the Portland area—about what makes Portland's airport so special and what entrepreneurs who want to open a PDX spot should know.
LaTrelle's has opened restaurants at five airports. What have been the challenges of working at PDX?
Most of these challenges are the same in any airport. The costs of operating in an airport are greater than with a street unit. You sometimes encounter extra costs that come out of nowhere. Your wages are much higher. That's not a problem, just the reality.
One challenge at PDX is the street pricing policy, so you have to match the prices on the street but with those higher airport costs. However, the volume makes up for it. The year our Stumptown cafe opened, it became the number-one Stumptown in the entire platform for sales.
Is the relationship between Portlanders and PDX different?
We do social media searches for our 35 locations. [Before the main location opened,] our most talked-about location was people from Portland talking about how excited they were to have Stumptown coffee in the airport. You could tell that for Portlanders, there was excitement in the community to have that iconic coffee there. People still frequently post photos at our PDX location to Instagram.
What are the benefits and challenges for local businesses of partnering with a management company like LaTrelle's?
Partnering can ease the financial burden. We've done this for almost 40 years, so we know the ins and outs of working with airports. If you think your brand works at an airport, but you're not sure, it's definitely worth having a conversation. We've mentored other companies to help them get into airports. It's good to have a mix of small and large businesses operating in the airport.
Want to open your next location at PDX? Talk to us.
Here's what this year will look like for PDX (and you!)
For the past year, we've built a nine-acre roof on a prefabrication lot to the northwest of the airport. The construction crews are now installing the last component—an intricate wood lattice, sourced from sustainable Northwest forests, that will eventually cover the interior ceiling.
What you'll see: If you drive along Marine Boulevard, you can glimpse the roof's dramatic swoops in the prefab lot.
Behind all those partitions in the pre-security area, construction crews have been hollowing out the back half of the main terminal. Starting in March, the exterior structure is also coming down to create a more open, spacious footprint. It may get noisy for a few months!
What you'll see: Not much, in fact. But when you’re in the ticket lobby and going through security, you may hear and feel what’s happening on the other side of those partitions. We're strategizing ways to counteract the sound, including free earplugs at the front doors and a sensory room in Concourse D.
Next, we’re erecting 34 giant steel Y-shaped columns to hold up the roof. Right now, construction crews are driving steel pilings deep into the ground to anchor these columns. Over the course of a few months, we’ll erect the Y columns one by one.
What you'll see: You probably won't notice—most are going up overnight behind the temporary walls. Late-night travelers will occasionally have to walk a few yards around an installation site.
Once the biggest section of the wood roof is fully assembled, the project team will break it back down into 20 "cassettes". During the summer and fall, Hoffman-Skanska and Mammoet will maneuver each cassette into place over the existing roof. It will take several days to place each cassette, and the work will happen overnight — depending on the section we’re placing, we may guide late-night travelers around a short detour.
What you'll see: Unless you're flying into PDX on a late-night flight, or camped out on Marine Drive at 2 a.m., you won't see much. If you walk to the ends of Concourse C or Concourse D and look back toward the main terminal, you'll catch a glimpse of the airport's new roofline.
In addition to the big projects, you’ll see a host of new amenities appear throughout the airport. A new play area in Concourse E. New art. New restaurants and cafes. (Lardo! Screen Door! Good Coffee!) You're almost guaranteed to encounter something new every time you visit the airport — and we're not talking barricades.