In some ways, Sizzle Pie’s decision to open an outpost in the last gritty vestiges of Capitol Hill is almost comically obvious. The Portland pizza outfit’s locations on either side of the Willamette River fuse punk and metalhead sensibilities with a deep respect for dietary restrictions (pies have names like Universal Order of Parmageddon and Vegan Angel of Doom). Cofounder Mikey McKennedy grew up in Olympia and since high school frequented nearby venues like Neumos and the Comet. His business partner Matt Jacobson owns a heavy metal record label. Their joints are fueled by cocktails, local beer, and loud music; like much of Capitol Hill, they keep going until 3 or 4am.
And yet Sizzle Pie, opening this winter in the former home of Auto Battery and Po Dog, bucks an unspoken trend: Eateries in Portland and Seattle are more likely to expand across the country than to cross-pollinate in our own culturally similar, geographically proximate Northwest cities.
Sure, we’ve traded a few coffee shops (Stumptowns here, Caffe Vitas in Portland) but Portland’s brilliant Thai mecca Pok Pok, is now in Brooklyn, not here. Its similarly brilliant Blue Star Donuts (worth the requisite 25-minute line) is opening in LA and Tokyo, while Pike Place Market staple Beecher’s bypassed Portland to launch a gleaming cheese temple in Manhattan’s Flatiron District.
No need to puzzle over the appeal of NYC; it’s our nation’s culinary epicenter—Pok Pok NY now has a Michelin star. But for whatever reason—maybe some perceived rivalry, or the prospect of spending endless hours on I-5—a move like Sizzle Pie’s is rare.
McKennedy, the pizzeria’s cofounder, says the choice to open in Seattle was personal. “We have ties and roots up there and we come from music and art and skateboarding backgrounds,” he says. Rather than open, say, nine Portland locations, “We want to go where our demographic and the heart of our core community is. It’s worth the drive.”
Sometimes the reasons are more prosaic. Though Rachel’s Ginger Beer has a considerable Portland following, owner Rachel Marshall realized sending thrice-weekly deliveries was way too expensive; better to open a bar serving drafts and floats and french fries, like she does on Capitol Hill. She’s planning a spot on Portland’s Southeast Division Street (a block from Pok Pok) whose larger-than-usual walk-in cooler can hold enough of her product to tide over both bar and wholesale accounts for an entire week.
Like Seattle, Portland has population density and a willingness to spend money on well-made food and drinks. Cheaper rent doesn’t hurt, either. In Marshall’s case, a faraway city would require a new production facility, but too many Seattle bars could be overkill for such a niche product. “Just plopping one down in Columbia City and South Lake Union and Ballard and every hot neighborhood—for us that’s really unwise.”