For Food Vendors, Shipping Containers Are the Perfect Mix of Portable and Permanent

SteelCraft is the latest example of a burgeoning retail trend

For many areas of Long Beach, shipping containers are as much a part of the scenery as beach cruisers and the Queen Mary’s smokestacks. “We are the second-largest port in the world,” says Kim Gros. “Our economy is driven by containers; we wanted to celebrate that.” Gros is the developer behind SteelCraft, an open-air food court built entirely from metal shipping containers. “It just made so much sense for us,” says Gros, who plans to open the complex later this spring with vendors like Smog City Brewing and Long Beach Cup Ramen Bar.

A whole raft of shipping containers has gone retail lately. In 2013, Las Vegas debuted the Container Park complex; San Diego is home to the Quartyard food and event space. Starbucks has even plunked container outposts in cities nationwide. Now L.A. is hitching onto the trend.

Sticking out like a corrugated flamingo among the brick warehouses of downtown’s Arts District is Shreebs Coffee. Co-owners Casey Goch and Ren Fuller-Wasserman were drawn to the structure’s mobile vibe and moved their roving coffee shop/art project to the container last August after slapping on a coat of pink paint. “Our biggest challenge was to make it more feminine,” says Goch. They also worried about size. “We kept doing drawings of where we would put everything. But when we got inside, we were like, ‘Wow, there is so much room in here!’  ”

Close quarters were a plus for Peter and Lauren Lemos, the couple behind the new deli Wax Paper, located in the up-and-coming Elysian Park neighborhood of Frogtown. “Peter and I always envisioned having a sandwich shop in a very tiny space,” says Lauren. “It helps keep our business model simple, and it’s easy to clean. There’s only the two of us.” City permitting issues meant that the 226-square-foot café—which includes a dining room—couldn’t be housed in an actual shipping container, as the architectural firm FSY initially conceived it, but the ridged metal box mimics the shape. “The form allows for creating a walkable streetscape,” says FSY’s Arturo Yanez, “and it’s a very sustainable idea. We like that.”