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Irving Street Kitchen’s Sarah Schafer to Open an Ambitious Italian Food Hall in June

The multimillion dollar Pearl District project aims to create an all-day experience, coffee to Roman pizza, all under one big roof.

By Karen Brooks January 28, 2020

Sarah Schafer

Image: John Valls

What’s next in Portland’s food scene? A lot of chefs whisper that the days of sweet little bistros and trattorias reimagined by passionate food dreamers across the city are over. “Everyone is feeling the pain,” says Irving Street Kitchen chef/partner Sarah Schafer. “Diners no longer want a beautiful meal every night. People don’t want to sit down anymore.” 

So Schafer and Irving Street partner Anna Caporael jumped at the chance to think about dining out through a different lens: an Italian food hall inspired by Florence’s great Mercato Centrale, where people gather every day to eat, shop, say hello to a butcher, snag flowers, have a coffee or a cocktail, wolf down a slice of pizza, or buy ready-made pastas for home.    

And that’s the vision for the duo’s new Italy-meets-Portland food hall, neighborhood hub, and marketplace tentatively called “La Cooperativa.” As Portland Monthly has learned, the couple just inked a 10-year lease at 1250 NW 9th Avenue, with hopes to open in June. The multimillion dollar, 5,000-square-foot project will occupy the ground level of the new eight-story Tanner Point building, which bills itself as “prime creative office space,” from the Los Angeles-based CBRE Global Investors. The building’s developers are investors in the project, having pitched the idea to Schafer and Caporael, who currently own 30 percent of Irving Street Kitchen.

The plan calls for a variety of leased vendors and spaces, organized by time of day. Upon entering, says Schafer, diners will find local coffee and pastries, a florist, and a small, curated market. By 11 a.m., customers can wander over to pasta and pizza stations, inspired by Schafer’s travels to Italy, where she’s been studying pasta-making and recharging a life-long food passion.  

She’ll personally oversee the pasta station and is honing what she calls “a beautiful collection of eight pastas and eight sauces,” pesto to walnut butter, to eat in or take out. “This is where my perfection comes in,” says the woman who slayed the chef competition at Wild About Game in 2017, winning over judges like Gourmet legend Ruth Reichl. 

Ideas are still in the works, but nothing too cheffy, she says while confiding: “I think I make a stunning Bolognese with chicken livers.” Game on, girl.

Steps away will be Roman pizza, long and thin and sold by the weight— like what you’d find it at Rome’s famed Forno Campo de’ Fiori square. Schafer is collaborating with her friend Sean Coyne, formerly of Portland’s respected but short-lived Pizza Maria, who will make the dough. Both share a pizza philosophy that favors a 48-hour fermentation, wild yeast, and local flour.

Further back, La Cooperativa will house an intimate bar with banquette seats and a fireplace.  Irving Street Kitchen’s bartender Joel Schmeck is overseeing Italian-inspired drinks, plus a list of Italian and local wines.

Meanwhile, they’re in talks with local purveyors for the other spaces, hoping to have everyone in place for a June launch. A gelato bike, custom-made in Italy, is being assembled to park outside the marketplace. 

While the look and feel are still in the works, the goal is to blend the Old World and the new, mixing polished cement, tile, and wood, with odd tables that somehow go together. “If you know Anna,” says Schafer with a laugh, “everything will be on the finest of budgets. But still kind of funky. No Tiffany lamps.”

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