Published April 28, 2022
When Katie Poppe co-founded Blue Star Donuts in 2012, she didn't expect long lines to form outside the store almost every day. "I think maybe it was a case of ‘right time, right place,’" she says a decade on. Blue Star's signature pastries, which head pastry chef Stephanie Thornton adapted from French brioche, became Portland icons, and the brand rapidly expanded—including, in 2016, a stand in the Portland airport’s Clocktower Plaza.
That original stand closed in 2019, but Katie worked with the PDX concessions team to return to the airport in November 2021, selling donuts from a cart in Concourse E. We talked to Katie about what it’s like to operate a store in the airport, and what advice she’d have for other local businesses considering the move.
PDX: How was opening a stand at PDX different from your other locations?
We have a hub-and-spoke model. Our hub is our commissary kitchen, where we make everything, and then we deliver to our spokes. And so all the spokes can have smaller footprints. We don't need hoods, we don't need grease traps, or crazy electrical wiring, or anything like that. [Our PDX stands have not been] too difficult to design from a construction standpoint. But you do have to work within the parameters of travel schedules and federal regulations.
What kinds of support was the concessions team at PDX able to help with?
They were really responsive, explaining things and facilitating communication [when I didn't] know which department to contact. They were willing to go to bat for me, too, saying, we can come up with some kind of an agreement and modify some things on our end if you're willing to modify some things on your end. I felt trust and transparency.
What does it mean for you as a business to be at PDX?
One reason: Pride. It's nice to be a homegrown company, and to represent that at the airport. The exposure is off the charts. There have been a lot of opportunities for publicity. People have said, "Hey, I saw you at the airport. We'd really love to collaborate with you on this" or "Can I interview you?"
It's also guaranteed foot traffic. That's something you can't always say for food carts or even storefronts. They're subject to the whims of the weather, or people may not be in the mood for donuts that day. With the airport, there are flights coming every single day. There are people walking by the storefront every single day. You still have to have a good product, and it's not guaranteed revenue, but there is guaranteed foot traffic.
What advice would you have for other small businesses who are considering applying to open a spot at PDX?
Go into it with realistic expectations and realize that it is going to take a lot more work up front. But, if you're playing the long game, it will absolutely pay off. It just depends on what your goals are for your company. If one of those goals is national exposure, this is the right move.
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.