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Portland Restaurant Law Update: Chain Restaurants, Local Supply?

The move toward sustainable and locally-grown ingredients, especially throughout the Pacific Northwest, is something everyone's heard about. If you live in Portland or Seattle, you probably feel like it's all you hear about when it comes to restaurants.

Now, national restaurant chains are starting to get into the 'local' act. Chipotle Mexican Grill, with 1100 restaurants (12 and 13 in Oregon and Washington, respectively) and over 26,000 employees nationally, has focused its supply chain on products grown within 350 miles of the stores it serves.

Chipotle calls its local food initiative, "Food With Integrity." The program calls for doubling the amount of locally grown produce in its restaurants in 2011. The company also uses locally made tortilla chips and wraps from Don Pancho, red onions from Brooks-based Curry & Company, and local jalapenos, green peppers and oregano.

For local farmers and other food product suppliers, this is no small deal. The local producers note that the increased purchasing from a chain like Chipotle has already provided them a significant shot in the arm.

While it can seem that all restaurant food in towns like Portland is already organic, or sustainable and local already (ever seen IFC's Portlandia?), national fast food and corporate chain restaurants still dominate the landscape outside the city core. If more and more chains decide to get in the act, not only will we find more fresh and healthy foods in the fast food restaurant down the street, we should see more cash in the pockets of local farmers and food producers.

Important for many local small businesses to remember, however, is to retain a lawyer when negotiating and documenting contracts with large, national corporations. Given what is often significantly unequal bargaining power and experience, it's important to ensure that your business -- as well as your food -- is sustainable.

Slinde Nelson is a business and Portland restaurant law firm that focuses on restaurant law for its Portland and Seattle restaurant and restaurant supply clients. We help with Oregon and Washington restaurant purchases and sales, employment issues, vendor and distribution relationships and disputes and all phases of restaurant operations and sales.

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