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Cargo container becomes Mexican eatery

Aprisas Kirk Lance (left) and Pedro Garcia offer a take-out Mexican restaurant in a converted cargo container parked near Southeast Eighth Avenue and Division Street.

Aprisas Kirk Lance (left) and Pedro Garcia offer a take-out Mexican restaurant in a converted cargo container parked near Southeast Eighth Avenue and Division Street.

When a customer asks Aprisa restaurant owner Kirk Lance if he recycles, Lance can honestly say, “Just look around.” And he means everywhere.

The Mexican takeout operation at Portland’s Southeast Eighth Avenue near Division Street is a completely recycled building, inhabiting what was once an abandoned cargo container. It stands as testimony to the idea that done right, re-use can take the risk out of starting a new business.

Fifteen years ago, Lance owned two Mexican restaurants in Casper, Wyo., strip malls. They eventually went out of business, and Lance moved to Portland and began working for food service company Sysco.

But the restaurateur bug never left him. He knew what he wanted next time — and what he didn’t want.

“I wanted to avoid the pitfalls of opening in somebody else’s building,” he says.

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Aprisa Mexican Cuisine, Portland, Ore.: A Movable Taqueria

AprisaHaving had two restaurants fail on him, Kirk Lance vowed if he ever opened another he’d have to be able to pick it up and move it if it started to backslide.

As he drove down the interstate in Oregon, where Lance had moved and had his eco-conscience raised, he noticed “giant yards … with hundreds, possibly thousands” of shipping containers stacked up and suddenly saw his next restaurant. He bought one of these cargo holders, for about $3,000.

“It was the culmination of sustainability and recycling and portability all coming together,” Lance says.
Turning the retired cargo vessel into a taqueria wasn’t that hard, says Lance. Cutting out windows, spraying in the foam insulation, “anybody with a little construction background can probably figure those things out,” he says.

But getting the permits, the blueprints, the structural engineering reports through the state of Oregon took four years, and added “a ton” to the cost, Lance says. ”What kept me going was if I could build one of these things and it works well, I could just copy the blueprints and build 100 of them,” or pick up and move.
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Shipping Containers: Home Sweet Home

Shipping containers: They’re strong, durable and portable, stack easily and link together like Legos. About 25 million of these 20-by-40 feet multicolored boxes move through U.S. container ports a year, hauling children’s toys, flat-screen TVs, computers, car parts, sneakers and sweaters.

But so much travel takes its toll, and after about eight years, the containers wear out and are retired. That’s when architects and designers, especially those with a “green” bent, step in to turn these cast-off boxes into student housing in Amsterdam, artists’ studios, emergency shelters, health clinics.

Despite an oft-reported glut of unused cargo containers lying idle around ports and ship yards – estimates have ranged from 700,000 to 2 million- the Intermodal Steel Building Units and Container Homes Association puts the number closer to 12,000, and that includes what’s sold on Craigslist and eBay.

Hybrid Architecture in Seattle, which has built small cottages and office buildings from containers, coined the term “cargotecture” almost 10 years ago to describe this method of building. Co-founder Joel Egan cautions that although containers can sell for aound $2,500, they shouldn’t be seen as a low-cost housing solution. “Ninety-five percent of the cost still remains,” he says.

Here’s a few recent North American projects where the shipping container takes center stage:

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Forget Big-Box Stores. How About A Big-Box House?

After: The cargo container is now home to Aprisa Mexican Cuisine in Portland, Ore.

When it comes to architecture, sustainability and affordability can mean many things: Salvaged wood becomes new flooring, old newspapers are shredded into insulation.

But a few architects are taking green building one step further: creating entire homes and businesses out of discarded shipping containers — an approach some have dubbed “cargotecture.”

Approximately a quarter-million shipping containers pass through Oregon’s Port of Portland each year. These are big boxes — 40 feet long and weighing thousands of pounds.

“As you look across the container terminal here, they look like giant, multicolored Legos stacked up out there,” says port spokesman Josh Thomas. Each one is full of cargo moving in or out of the Portland region.

Shipping containers are ubiquitous on trucks, trains and ships today; about 20 million pass through American ports each year. But as critical as they are to modern life, the containers date back fewer than 60 years.

“We started to see containerization,” the freight shipping system based on the boxy containers, in the 1950s, Thomas says. “And since then, increasingly, just about anything that can be shipped inside of a container is.”

But traveling so many miles takes its toll, and eventually the containers are retired. Some are melted down, and some sit around old lots.

And some become buildings — like taquerias.
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Restaurants pop up in shipping containers

Restaurants pop up in shipping containers aprisa

Aprisa Mexican Cuisine in Portland used a shipping container as its building to save on costs. The restaurant spent $3,000 to rehab the container for its location on SE Eighth Avenue.

The first thing you notice at Aprisa Mexican Cuisine on SE Eighth Avenue in Portland is the pride the company takes in producing quality drive-through food from scratch. The next thing that grabs your attention is that it’s operated out of a shipping container.

“Here is what is happening: The U.S. is importing so many things, and exporting very little,” says Kirk Lance, owner and founder of Aprisa. “We have these shipping containers being left in droves, and we are just stacking them up. They are becoming industrial waste.”

Not only are the containers plentiful, they’re cheap, and that matters in an industry where the failure rate is so high. Lance bought the shipping container for Aprisa for $3,000.
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