By Nancy Tannler
2311 SE 8th Ave.
Mon-Fri: 7 am-9 pm
Sat-Sun: 8 am-9 pm
438 SE MLK
Mon-Sun: 10:30 am-9 pm
Figuring out the best way to build a restaurant business that could offer franchises took Kirk Lance a couple of tries but, Apriza, 438 SE MLK Blvd and SE 8th and Division St., has landed at the just right combination.
The owner of the three local Mexican restaurants Lance told his trial and error story of a win-win combination of, preparing great food for locals, having business partners that benefit by owning part of the business and how to own the equipment when you can’t own the building. All essentials, he discovered, to maintaining a smooth running operation.
Lance’s tale begins in Phoenix, Arizona where he lived until he was fifteen. As a kid, his everyday food was Mexican food, so he grew up with this as a basic. His family moved to Wyoming where he eventually started into the restaurant business with the idea that owning a small franchise of restaurants would lead to more success for more people.
Good in theory, but in actuality there were a few elements that didn’t quite pan out. First the people in Wyoming didn’t really have that much of an affinity for Mexican food and the second was that investing in kitchens, venting fans, grease drainage, licenses in rented spaces left you vulnerable to the landlords whims with no exit strategy should they decide to end your lease or raise your rent too high.
“Wyoming taught me a lot and when I arrived in Portland fifteen years ago and eventually opened my first Apriza on SE 8th & Division, I had a better plan,” Lance said.
His unique idea was to take industrial waste (shipping containers) and repurpose them into a drive through restaurant. It was brilliant and in doing so he did something good for the planet by using up something going to waste. He’s also brought fresh, good Mexican food to inner SE.
In order to have a franchise and partners, a restaurant needed more than one location so Lance built another walk up Apriza at NW 2nd & Davis and took over the old Taco Del Mar down on 438 MLK and SE Stark.
He built the structures of all three places himself by watching a few youtube videos and being clever with his hands. The Apriza on MLK previously did not have a kitchen with a grill. To install one would have cost around $50,000. Lance learned the hard way that this type of investment was not a good financial decision even for a solid business. So he put his welding skills to use and built a legal outdoor grill from an old boxcar. Portions of what he cut away were used to section off a dining patio so alcohol can be served. It makes a nice separation from the busy boulevard.
Since there was already a kitchen space at the MLK site, this became the commissary for the other two locations. One of his partners at MLK is Pedro Garcia. He was busy in the indoor kitchen prepping the chip bowls and lining up the freshly prepared meats, vegetables, beans, pico de gallo, tomatillo salsa, red salsa, cheese and other items for the day’s meals.
Another of the MLK partners, Mario Gonzoles, had several batches of the green tomatillo salsa ready for delivery in their refrigerated truck to the other two locations. His son, Eduardo was busy grilling outside in the kitchen converted shipping container.
You can tell this crew is proud of their food because Apriza is branded into the chips and burritos and taco salad shells, an extra effort with a special touch.
“We stand behind the quality of our food,” Lance said. The menu is fairly straight forward – burritos, taco salads, burrito bowls, tortas, quesadillas and a kids meal.
Lance designed the menu and Garcia refined it using the special spices and methods he learned in his grandmother’s kitchen in Mexico. There are no microwaves or freezers used here. Everything is freshly made everyday.
The MLK Location is open 10:30 am – 8 pm serving lunch and dinner. SE 8th & Division is open from 7 am – 9 pm, Monday through Friday, and 8 am – 9 pm Saturday and Sunday, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
All menu items are $7. Apriza is known for their catering and can bring their own refrigerated van and portable kitchen set up along with all utensils, plates and napkins for around $11 per person.