- Buyer's Guide
First Look: Snow Peak Portland HQ
“There is nothing grand about openings in 2020” – Matt Liddle, Snow Peak’s USA Chief Operating Officer
Let’s face it, opening up a multi-functioning US headquarters and retail space is an undertaking for any brand during “normal times.” For Snow Peak, they faced the challenge of accomplishing this feat not just during a global pandemic and recession, but having to do so in a city under the spotlight for 100+ days of protests around the Black Lives Matter movement. But if you are a grounded brand like Snow Peak whose mission is to “restore the human spirit” through artfully crafted experiences in nature, you are up for the task.
As a designer, camper, and overall product fanatic who has been in the outdoor industry and the Pacific Northwest for almost 10 years, I am quite familiar with the Japanese camping brand. Their Titanium French Press coffee maker was my first acquisition, a gift from my best friend and frequent partner in camping crimes. Since then, I have acquired a few more pieces of their camp kitchenware to lighten my load and elevate my outdoor experience. So you can imagine my excitement when I was connected with the fellas at Carryology to attend a VIP tour of Snow Peak’s new headquarters space and cover the event ahead of their grand opening.
We began our much anticipated tour on the backside of the building at the patio extension of their new restaurant, Takibi (more on the restaurant later in the post). The patio provides a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of 23rd Ave, a popular Portland destination known for its vibrant food and shopping scene. Bamboo greenery screens patrons from the street and the space, covered with string lights and outfitted with Snow Peak furniture, creates an oasis where you can relax on a pleasant Pacific Northwest afternoon. Our tour kicked off with an introduction from Snow Peak USA’s COO Matt Liddle, who chronicled Snow Peak’s successful journey opening four headquarters over the past nine years. Portland’s HQ4, their first headquarters to be opened outside of Japan, took inspiration from HQ1’s success:
“Snow Peak’s HQ1 opened in 2011 in our home prefecture of Niigata, Japan. It was a courageous project with a campground, retail store, and global headquarters all in one remote mountaintop location. Snow Peak HQ1 employees go to a workplace with both the outdoors and design built into the very building, inspiring them further as creative outdoor people. And they work in a location where customers camp and shop right outside their office, providing rich opportunities to engage with customers.”
Oregon became Snow Peak’s US home just over 20 years ago when they opened a small distribution center in the Portland suburb of Lake Oswego. In 2012, they launched their first US retail location on 14th Ave in downtown Portland and now in 2020, they moved 10 blocks west. The new headquarters location is stunningly modern, clean, and rooted in the same natural aesthetic that has been the brand’s signature style for over 60 years. Located in the heart of Portland’s popular Northwest neighborhood, this 15,000 square foot space is the perfect next step in the brand’s growth trajectory.
After introductions, the Snow Peak team guided our tour group up to their second-floor office space. Ample floor-to-ceiling windows flood the space with light, creating a sensation like climbing into the mountains and towards the sky. Approximately 30 employees will work in the space with additional room for team members from Snow Peak’s Japan offices to come and go as needed when in town. The office houses members from the sales, brand and marketing, operations, and creative teams. Currently, there is a significantly reduced headcount due to Covid-19, with many employees working remotely. Team members that venture in (about eight at a time) practice social distancing through dispersed seating for safety.
As you pass through the office, the conference room at the opposite end of the space comes into view. It creates the illusion of entering a treetop fort. The room is surrounded by glass and overlooks the retail space and street below. A grid featuring Snow Peak logos creates a privacy screen for the lower portion of the conference room windows, while still maintaining a sense of openness.
This multi-program space provides employees with direct access to customers for personal interactions that not many headquarter spaces have the luxury to offer. Liddle, quoted earlier, expanded on this:
“Our US team will come to work daily in an environment designed to inspire them, and literally be able to walk from their desk and interact with customers shopping for our product within our retail store, using our product in our restaurant, and engaging with the outdoor community in our event spaces. Community is deeply important to Snow Peak and our headquarters is built with that in mind.”
Next up on our tour was the showroom. Lofted above the retail floor below, this mezzanine provides ample space to showcase Snow Peak’s diverse line of tents and outdoor living accessories. The customer can experience assembled products as the brand intended. Each tent is meticulously staged with Snow Peak camp equipment that perfectly complements each scene.
At the far end of the showroom, I caught a glimpse of a display featuring a bike paired with a custom Snow Peak-branded Swift Industries Peregrine Randonneur Bag. When asked about potential future collabs that the brand has in store, Snow Peak’s reps mentioned their current partnerships with Pendleton and Danner, two iconic local brands, and teased upcoming collaborations with some other PNW brands. We will stay tuned to get more intel on future collabs!
Adjacent to the showroom is an event space, which is primarily intended for community use. The space holds up to 60 people and creates an intimate gathering vibe while maintaining an open feel. During the tours, Snow Peak had one of its employees demoing a custom anodization using a classic Snow Peak Spork. The colors changed based on how long the spork was in the solution bath. There were so many options in varying ranges of colors; the obvious choice, however, was rainbow.
After we selected our sporks, it was time to journey downstairs. The stairwell descent from the second level to the first offered a memorable, intimate experience that honors the connection between the brand and its loyal customer base. Entering the stairwell, you encounter the first of three Portland Garment Factory installations – the fabric clouds – continuing the skyward journey theme of the upper level. Portland Garment Factory (PGF), a local design and fabrication studio, collaborated with Snow Peak to bring these unique experiences to life. Before you descend, you can stop and admire a gallery wall from above that showcases photos from fans of the brand. The gallery wall and descending staircase also spotlight messages from the Yamai family leadership: Lisa Yamai, current President of Snow Peak Japan Inc and granddaughter of the founder, Yukio Yamai, as well as her father, Chairman and CEO of Snow Peak USA, Tohru Yamai.
The stairwell experience eventually led us to the retail floor where we were deposited into one of my favorite sections, apparel and accessories. The aforementioned Lisa Yamai is not only the President of Snow Peak Japan, she is also the designer who first introduced apparel to the line in 2014. Her outlook for the collection was “creating functional and stylish clothing which intersects both urban use and outdoor life.” Anyone who has had the pleasure of experiencing Snow Peak’s apparel collection firsthand can attest to her success in achieving this goal. The attention to detail taken with these products makes me wish I had an entire afternoon to sit and admire each and every stitch, the materials used, and the intricacies of the designs. But we must move forward.
Walking through the space, you begin to appreciate the sheer level of work that was put into the details:
“The ground floor is designed with dark woods and timber scaffolding, the rich tones evoking the forest floor as you descend from the main entrance. The stacked timber walls throughout the ground floor are inspired by traditional Japanese wooden scaffolding. The wood was sourced from three massive support beams from a demolished warehouse in the Sellwood neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. The historic Douglas Fir timber was remilled to give it a new life while recognizing the heritage of our Pacific Northwest home.”
Leaving the apparel and accessories section, we were greeted by a two-story mural that pays homage to company Founder Yukio Yamai, which sits opposite the main entrance to the store:
“Yukio is kneeling in front of Mount Tanigawa, the most storied mountain in Snow Peak’s home prefecture of Niigata, Japan. The mural was based on an iconic photo of Yukio hand drawn in pen and ink by Shogo Ota, a Seattle-based artist and designer.”
In front of the mural is the new Takibi Fire and Grill collection. Check out Taylor Weldon’s article that recounts his experience with this amazing product in Death Valley here.
As we continued across the store, I swung through the camp kitchenware section to the right of the mural. All of the titanium wares we have come to know and love are neatly displayed to tempt (and successfully convince) you to buy before you leave. In my case it worked, as I couldn’t leave without one of their Tsuzumi Bottles in a burnt orange color.
The last retail section was the Iron Grill Table (IGT) customization center. Here you can look through all of the modular components of their fireside grilling furniture to pick out the items you want for your next camping experience. They have some tables set up in the space for you to experience and you can mix and match the components from the wall to create your very own unique design.
As I prepared to check out, I noticed another unique PGF installation overlooking the retail counter, built from the well-loved Hozuki lanterns.
Our tour ended with a visit to the brand-new Takibi bar and restaurant, the latest Snow Peak dining establishment. On our way in, we passed the last of the three PGF displays, a wall installation that uses Snow Peak’s iconic Collapsible Coffee Drip.
Takibi (“bonfire” in Japanese) aims to be a high-dining experience that elevates the senses. In a comment from the brand they share how their belief is that “fire is the heart of every outdoor gathering”. To reflect this, they had a custom built, solid soapstone hearth placed in the center of the open kitchen. Wood and charcoal will burn there in full view of the guests enjoying a meal or a drink.
The nearly finalized menu blends locally sourced Oregon ingredients with unique Japanese flavor combinations. As a treat, we were given a tasty preview of things to come. There were two drink options, the Chilled Soba (Kettl Tea iced Nagano soba cha), and the Emperor’s Ransom (Ransom Old Tom Gin, Mizuba chamomile houjicha tea, lemon sherbet, nutmeg). I chose the Emperor’s Ransom, which was exceptionally refreshing and smooth on a warm end-of-summer day.
We were also able to experience some of the first savory bites from Executive Chef Alex Kim – a Smoked Salmon Sushi and a Halibut Sushi. Two quick tastes delicately balanced with flavors that satisfied and left me wanting more.
The open kitchen gives diners a view into the chef ’s quarters and into his process. The entire restaurant features a distinctive palette of materials ranging from bamboo that reflects the camping kitchen gear, to the upcycled kiln tiles from Heath Ceramics in San Francisco:
“The tiles are used in the kilns for two years before being decommissioned. Instead of discarding them, Heath Ceramics cut them into tiles to be used on the walls throughout the space. Each one is entirely unique due to the striations from the tools used in the kiln. This ties back to the concept of Takibi or bonfire, which is integrated throughout the space.”
Snow Peak decided to push Tabiki’s opening to the Spring of 2021 (due to Covid-19) so the restaurant can truly be experienced as intended.
As you can gather from this write-up, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in this amazing new space. Wanting to leave the readers pining for more, I asked the team to share anything else we can look forward to from Snow Peak after this launch:
“There’s much for readers to look forward to as we settle into our new space. The biggest is our restaurant, Takibi, which will likely open in 2021. We’re eager to safely welcome guests to dine in the restaurant, and we’re confident it will serve as a gathering place for our community. Further, we are exploring how to incorporate elements of our business in Japan into the US market. In Japan, Snow Peak owns and operates a number of campgrounds where campers can have a fully immersive Snow Peak experience. We’re examining the different ways we could emulate that here in the US.”
Snow Peak’s original plan for the Grand Opening over the weekend of September 11th-13th was postponed to October 3rd due to the hazardous air quality conditions from recent wildfires outside of the city.
While I write this article and sip on hibiscus tea from my Ti-Double H200 Mug, I yearn for the next time I can take this mug to the restorative natural environment in Oregon. Till then, stay safe, stay healthy, and carry on.
This post was written by Daniel Calabrese, a soft goods designer, photographer, and all around lover of outdoor adventures.