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Portland's newest food hall is all-Italian, in the Pearl District

Cooperativa is a food hall, marketplace, bar and restaurant. The owners say it's the future of food, especially during and after a pandemic.

PORTLAND, Oregon — The pandemic has changed the way we eat and how we get food: ordering ahead online, using QR codes, grab and go meals, buying more ready-made components for quick cooking at home.

The owners of Portland's newest food hall were already thinking that way, a year before coronavirus hit. The Pearl District has a new neighbor on the block inviting us all over, while still unpacking her moving boxes. "We're pasta, pizza, coffee, sandwiches, soup soon! All things Italian!" said co-owner Anna Caporeal.

Cooperativa is on NW 9th and Northrup on the ground floor of the Tanner Point building. Finished in 2018, it's a 7-floor creative office space building adjacent to the railroad tracks and across the street from the Willamette River and the old horse stables for the Portland Police Mounted Patrol.

Credit: Nina Mehlhaf
Cooperativa's marketplace area with fresh produce, dry goods, and grab and go meals.

On one end, Cooperativa is a marketplace for Italian-influenced products, sauces, salts and beans. They have cut flowers, farm fresh produce, and locally produced meats, cheeses and house salads. In the middle, it's a coffee bar and pastries. There's a homemade bread case where you can order house made sandwiches, plus gelato. And another counter will be stocked with chef and co-owner Sarah Schafer's house made pasta and sauces, to eat in or take home.

"We also have all kinds of pizza by the cut," explained Schafer. "Our bar will be fully open with different types of spritzes, different amaros, different Negroni's."

"We have a big, beautiful booth we call the Duomo. Our hope is that parties of 10 and smaller can reserve that at some point and enjoy everything we offer," added Caporeal.

Credit: Nina Mehlhaf
The Duomo large seating area and smaller booths in the restaurant/bar portion of Cooperativa. Full bar seating and tables line the rest of the room

These two women have worked together a long time. Schafer, the chef and owner of beloved Irving Street Kitchen in the Pearl. Caporeal was the general manager. The 10-year-old southern food spot closed permanently in March. Covid-19 put the writing on the wall.

But for Schafer, who had planned over a year ago, to be running both Irving and Cooperativa at the same time, it's a weight off her shoulders. A clean break, she didn't realize at the time, now feels right. "I'm happy that Cooperativa is working and that it's my move forward, our move forward. I think it's the way that food is going, the way that people want to eat. Irving Street was so big, it couldn't change. It was like a cruise ship that you couldn't turn around because of how much it took to run it. Cooperativa is moldable. It can be as big as we want it to, or as small as we want it to. And we can still protect staff in that way. And that's what makes us happy," Schafer said.

"The one thing that I miss the most about Irving Street is the heartbeat on a busy night when it's going and it's at full tilt, you just, you could feel the room beating."

Credit: Nina Mehlhaf
House made pasta and sauces sold at Cooperativa. You can choose from fresh pasta made that day for eat-in or take-out, or dried pasta to make at home.

Pandemic be damned. The Pearl is still beating. People are working at home and walking their dogs and getting fresh air. Situated a block from the Willamette River and it's bike and walking paths, next to two parks, on the way to the Moda Center, and who knows...maybe blocks from a Major League Baseball team in Portland's future...Cooperativa is poised to be the future of how our city meets and eats...all socially distant, of course.

"I want us to be back to a place where we can all gather and enjoy. That's what we do in the hospitality industry," Schafer said. "We heal people through food and drink, and I want to feel that here."

Cooperativa has outdoor tables undercover right now. Spaced indoor tables in the restaurant and bar will be opening soon. Follow them on Instagram.