Fishpeople: Sustainability is Key

New home of Fishpeople on MLK at Russell
New home of Fishpeople on MLK at Russell

It all started at Cascade Head at the mouth of the Salmon River.  It is quite tricky to get to the three rocks past the spit on the other side of the river, but this is where Kipp Baratoff and Duncan Berry were sitting in 2012 when they came up with the idea for their business venture.  They were sitting on those rocks talking about the ocean, the fish and how sad they were with some of the complexities of the seafood industry. They wished the industry could connect better with consumers.  There in the “original boardroom” the idea for Fishpeople was born to transform the consumer’s relationship with the sea.

With a production and storage network  that spans the Pacific Northwest along the coast and I5 corridor, all that was left was to build a headquarters to house all corporate functions like marketing, finance, sales, and the supply chain team. Fishpeople has nationally distributed product lines with a mix of both self-manufactured and co-manufactured products.   No production would be housed in the corporate headquarters.

In April 2015 the search for a home for the corporate headquarters ended in our Eliot neighborhood when the building at 2450 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd went up for sale. Fishpeople’s investment partners seized the opportunity to purchase the building. The 1920’s building originally housed the Geo W. Bates & Company Bankers and most recently Marinello’s Beauty School.  It is a reinforced masonry building with the original bank vaults, curiously constructed stairwells and landings, exposed beam ceilings and gorgeous archways and windows. However, uncovering a lot of the hidden architectural details would take some time, research and strategic planning.

That’s when the expertise of Green Gables, a design, build, architectural firm and construction management company, was called in to assist.  Kipp Baratoff, Fishpeople co-founder, oversaw the renovation process and worked with a team of internal and external stakeholders including Adam Khwaja from Green Gables to come up with a plan to create an open office space and keep as much of the original building as possible.  Khwaja said, “From archived plans from the city we were able to uncover the amazing architecture of the building.”  Archways that had been covered up or filled in were restored, ceiling beams were exposed and the bank vaults were retained as a nod to the financial institution that originally constructed this beautiful architectural gem in our neighborhood.  It is a solidly constructed building with some walls made of eighteen inch thick concrete. The space was stripped back to the bank vaults and they decided to keep the existing mezzanine. “The vision from Fishpeople was an open office concept that allowed for a cohesive collaborative office atmosphere but with the need for some private areas as well like conference rooms and quite work spaces,” says Khwaja.

“We essentially created an atrium without the atrium,” Baratoff explains. “We didn’t want to cover up the beautiful building.”  This is an adaptive reuse project and retrofitting a building requires evaluating the cost.  Here the savings by retrofitting the building outweighed the scraping and removal of debris and then following up with new construction.  There are definite savings, “plus eighteen inch concrete is hard to drill through,” says Baratoff.

The hardest thing for adaptive reuse and to obtain LEED status is the enormous expense.  “Certain system upgrades can be difficult to justify long term just to put a plaque up on a building.  So from a full life cycle cost analysis, looking at the water heaters and HVAC units that still work well now, it would cost more to bring in new units for very small consumption savings. It is better to keep some things out of the landfill and to keep the old units until their life span is up,” Baratoff explains. Khwaja and Bartoff think that they created a nice hybrid with open space and conference rooms and some small quiet rooms for one or a couple of employees to concentrate.

Like no other company has been willing to do, the co-founders, Kip Baratoff and Duncan Berry have used their backgrounds in commercial fishing, apparel, environmental science, finance, and their limitless curiosity about the industry while giving their customers peace of mind and confidence to prepare delicious seafood meals and offering a transparency of the sustainable sources, identification of the actual fisherman catching the fish while restoring habitats and creating jobs. The complexity of the marine ecosystem far outweighs the complexity of the terrestrial ecosystem.

With Fishpeople’s help we can all feel better about the fish we are eating and eliminate the hesitation of preparing fish for dinner. As they like to say, “Fear no fish.”

NE Union (Now MLK) and Russell in 1929
NE Union (Now MLK) and Russell in 1929 (City of Portland Archives)

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