Nosh Pit

Containers to give West Sacramento project a lift

These renderings of projects envisioned by Sacramento developer Federico Cohan show shipping containers being used for restaurants and cafes.
These renderings of projects envisioned by Sacramento developer Federico Cohan show shipping containers being used for restaurants and cafes. Luxe Urban Life

If all goes to plan, Federico Cohan sees local eateries built from shipping containers losing their novelty status and becoming a regular part of the Sacramento restaurant scene.

Cohan recently announced a mixed-use development project in West Sacramento, in a lot adjacent to Broderick Roadhouse. It would encompass 15,000 square feet of retail and office space. The three-story project developed by Cohan and his Luxe Urban Life company would use a series of 320-square-foot shipping containers as the basis for the building. His team of partners in the project include Chris Jarosz, co-owner of Broderick Roadhouse.

Midtown Sacramento is already home to two businesses built with shipping containers: Der Biergarten and Federalist Public House & Beer Garden. But Cohan wants to haul this concept much farther down the road.

“I want to drop them in every lot in Sacramento,” Cohan said on a recent morning at the Pavilions Shopping Center patio. “There’s lots of empty spaces in downtown and midtown. We can open your funky restaurant or cafe in one of these containers.”

All of the plans are still in their infancy. Tenants have yet to be secured and groundbreaking on the West Sacramento site isn’t expected for at least five months. Once construction begins, Cohan anticipates the project will require $500,000 of funding and six months to complete. While some shipping container projects are built as temporary structures, he intends for most of his projects to be permanent structures.

Cohan, who works as a design and development consultant in residential real estate, learned of shipping container construction projects seven years ago from a book at a Berkeley shop. These kinds of containers are increasingly used around the world as a relatively low-cost development solution for both retail and housing. Starbucks in more than two dozen locations uses shipping containers and pre-fabricated materials. Puma sneakers has utilized shipping containers for pop-up shops in New York City, San Francisco and other cities.

Cohan says that constructing a building with shipping containers costs about half the amount of erecting a traditional structure. The base price for one of Cohan’s shipping container buildings start around $20,000 – though that investment would increase depending on furnishings, fixtures and other elements.

But ultimately, he hopes this lower-price barrier to running a business will inspire entrepreneurs, especially those who’d otherwise be priced out of running a restaurant or cafe.

“My No. 1 goal is to bring more business to the community,” Cohan said. “You have so many intelligent youngsters who graduate and flee our city because the business opportunities are not there. They can’t afford to rent or buy a building. But now, you can own your business and the building, and never have to pay rent again.”

Not all has been smooth with shipping container business in Sacramento. Der Biergarten at 24th and K streets ran into snags with city officials given its proposed design, which was deemed too industrial-looking for its neighborhood and required extensive redesign that doubled the cost.

Marvin Maldonado, co-owner of Federalist Public House, says his experience in opening was a bit easier. Given that his pub and pizzeria is tucked in an alley off 20th Street, there weren’t issues of disturbing the neighborhood aesthetics.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle is the preconceptions from Sacramentans themselves. Shipping containers can be outfitted with all the traditional elements of homes and restaurants, be it plumbing and electrical, even central heat and air. Still, the idea of doing business in a shipping container might strike some as calling home a glorified recycling bin.

“The biggest hurdle (Cohan’s) going to have is the community,” Maldonado said. “Is our community at-large ready for a large scale of container projects in an urban setting? Can you see a container project go in at Howe & Hurley? … But in an urban setting it makes a lot of sense. I think people are warming up to it.”

Cohan said he wants to design his projects so they fit in an overall neighborhood’s feel, whether it’s adding wood to the facade or large windows, instead of just dropping a giant steel box in an empty lot.

“They’re cheap, eco-friendly and weather proof,” said Cohan. “The sky is the limit with them.”

Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.