Stumptown and the Trail Blazers Chris McGowan

Trail Blazers President Chris McGowan visits Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Stumptown and the Trail Blazers Chris McGowan
Stumptown’s Skip Colombo interviews Trail Blazers President and CEO Chris McGowan

At long last, the Portland Trail Blazers return to the court tonight for their first pre-season game of the 2015-2016 National Basketball Association season. The roster is a little different from last year’s, and the streak of back-to-back seasons of more than 50 wins is in a little danger of being snapped. (Some people say the Blazers will be the worst team in the NBA this season, but we can agree that those people are just willfully ignorant.)

So assuming you’re visiting this blog looking for something other than my completely impartial take on the upcoming season for the Blazers, what does all of this have to do with coffee? Well, our friends at Stumptown Coffee Roasters have an ongoing series where they invite someone to talk about their jobs, background, etc., and then have a Q&A session during a lunch. Past participants have included Barista Magazine’s editor, Sarah Allen, and last Thursday the guest was Chris McGowan, the Trail Blazers’ president and CEO.

McGowan came to the Blazers after serving as president of the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League when they won the Stanley Cup. He also worked in the front office of the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer.

Stumptown and the Trail Blazers Chris McGowan
A packed room of Stumptown employees listens to Blazers president Chris McGowan talk about his background before a Q&A session.

Though many of the questions revolved around players and talk about the team’s fortunes for the upcoming season, there was a coffee-related reason to have McGowan there, he’s the person responsible for the Moda Center‘s food and beverage offerings, among many other things, and that means he’s the person responsible for having Stumptown served on the concourses of the Moda Center (the Blazer’s home arena.)

McGowan joined the Blazers in 2012, and he said, “When I started we had really bad coffee, and now we have the best!” But coffee’s not the only thing McGowan changed at the Moda Center (he also sold the naming rights to the former Rose Garden to Moda Health.) But other than the name change, McGowan also made a concerted effort to change the food and beverage offerings at the arena.

Stumptown and the Trail Blazers Chris McGowan
Chris McGowan president and CEO of the Portland Trail Blazers visits Stumptown Coffee for its Thursday Speaker Series.

“It’s one of the biggest things people talk to me about,” McGowan said, “that you can get a good meal at the games. It seems so simple, but when I got here, the Rose Garden was the only place in Portland that didn’t feel like it was in Portland. It could have been any arena in the world.”

He said that it didn’t make any sense that Portland could be known around the world for its food and none of it would be available at the arena. So McGowan sent out feelers and asked people about what food they’d like to see in the arena, and then they started working to make sure local vendors would be included in the Moda Center.

“It’s something you have to update and change every year,” he said. “Not all of the vendors can scale to the arena environment. They have to understand and adjust on the fly.”

The big shift to local food providers started last season, when Stumptown was brought in, and continues this year. Food trucks, that staple of Portland’s food scene, get kiosks in the arena, and others get space that used to be mass produced fast food. Now companies like Sizzle Pie pizza, Bunk Sandwiches, and ice creamery Salt & Straw are all featured prominently in the arena.

Today the Moda Center really does feel like a continuation of the great food and beverage scene in Portland. Of course, even before McGowan’s arrival the beer stands in the arena served loads of great local brews, but last year, the Blazers converted the upper-level smoking deck into an enclosed bar called the Pines which features beers from multiple Oregon breweries and servers them with a great view of downtown Portland.

Back to basketball, the Blazers’ starting lineup will be 80% new from the last two seasons, so naturally, most of the questions McGowan fielded revolved around that massive change (he thought it might be the only time in NBA history that a 50+ win team has seen that much turnover in the lineup.) But he said he thought the team would be better than most people projected (just like me, Chris McGowan is totally non-biased!). He also dropped a couple of pieces of legit news: He said he expects Mason Plumlee to start at center, Myers Leonard to start at the 4, and CJ McCollum to start at shooting guard.

After about an hour and half of conversation, Stumtown’s Skip Colombo, who served as emcee and interviewer, thanked McGowan for his time, and he said it was one of the coolest things he’s been lucky enough to do in his time at Stumptown. Then the attendees took pictures and shook hands with McGowan before they all went back to work.

The Trail Blazers start their pre-season schedule with a home game tonight against the Sacramento Kings. The Blazers regular season begins Oct. 28 against the New Orleans Pelicans.

About Ken 263 Articles
Kenneth R. Olson (he/him) is co-founder and publisher of Barista Magazine the worldwide trade magazine for the professional coffee community. He has written extensively about specialty coffee, traveled near and far for stories, activities, and fun, and been invited to present on topics important to coffee culture. He is also an avid fan of the Portland Trail Blazers, the Washington Huskies, and public libraries.