By offering burgers, donuts, pizza, and ramen at his assortment of casual eateries, Micah Camden has built himself into Portland, Oregon’s most successful restaurateur. He owns more restaurants than anyone else, which wasn’t his goal but is saying something for a city known for star chefs and great food. At Willamette Week, Leah Sottile profiles Camden to understand what makes this 40-year old millionaire tick, as he ventures into vegan ice cream and another fast food concept. Some Portlanders see his restaurants as agents of gentrification, their aesthetics bland and homogenous, popular with tourists. Some find his personality contentious. He doesn’t care. He grew up on fast food, and he gives people what they want: fast food and value.
His approach to entrepreneurship, in general, is at odds with the city’s usual way of doing things.
“I think he doesn’t give a shit about authenticity or any of these hang-ups that a lot of us have,” Huffman says. “Everybody’s trying to do stuff that feels sincere or something in a way that you don’t want to do things that feel calculated or douchey. And Micah’s like, ‘I want to make money!’”
Matt Brown, co-owner of Bunk Sandwiches, agrees that part of Camden’s success is his ability to hang up his chef clothes and to approach food without culinary-school pretension.
“When you’re wearing the whites, you’re going for a niche part of the pie,” Brown says. “When you’re wearing that hat, you want to get written up in Bon Appétit and be celebrated for providing something wonderful for their market. Fast casual means taking yourself out of the equation and thinking, ‘What does everyone else in town want?’ He approaches that pretty well.”