Built Oregon -Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine

Category - Food & Beverage

Keeping it simple, genuine, and real: The Brazi Bites story

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Keep it simple, genuine, and real.

This is the mantra that Brazi Bites founders Junea Rocha and her husband Cameron MacMullin live and work by, and, of course, this is the philosophy that lives in the hearts and minds of many Oregonians.

But more than just a mantra, it defines the brand values of a company that is on a journey to bring a little taste of Brazil to the United States. A journey that began when Junea initially made her way to the U.S. through a work exchange program, and has taken the couple from growing local production here in Portland to being in front of the cameras on Shark Tank.

It’s a journey that began with the simple desire to make the distance between Brazil and Portland seem a bit smaller, one tasty bite at a time.cameron   junea profile

Bringing a taste of home to Oregon

“I grew up with Pao de Queijo (pronounced “pow day kayyo”) a popular Brazilian staple, cheese bread. When I met and married my husband Cameron, I moved to Portland to be with him. Soon I  started missing my favorite snack and realized I couldn’t find it here. In 2009, I asked my mother for her recipe. This recipe began several generations ago with my grandmother, who grew up on a farm, with fresh milk, eggs and cheese.”

The first challenge Junea encountered was finding the right cheese.The cheese used in Brazil is called Minas. It is not available in the U.S. Thus, they went about finding a replacement – no easy task.

The process involved testing hundreds of cheeses. Junea and Cameron tried every possible combination, and through trial and error,  found that mild white cheddar with parmesan gives the perfect cheesy bite.

The bread has very few ingredients in it. Along with the cheeses, milk and eggs, Brazi Bites uses tapioca flour from Brazil, safflower oil, water and salt. The bread is naturally free from gluten, soy, and sugar but is loaded with taste.

With the recipe set, it was time to do some market research.

“Our first test of the product was at the Spring Beer and Wine Festival here in Portland. We made a ton of freshly baked product and it sold out half way through the show. We knew then that we had something special.”

But having something special does not always translate into being a successful business.

To get started, the couple took a 12-week course on how to take a family recipe to market, offered at Portland City College. The course covered packaging, regulations, marketing and branding, which gave them a huge leg up.

12249781_1160513880629544_7961723686897027647_n“The recipe-to-market class is unique to Portland as is the support system here. People are very willing to share their expertise and see you succeed. Another thing we found is shared kitchen space. Because it’s so expensive to start, we looked into sharing our overhead at a facility in Tigard. We did that for a year, then moved on to our own location. When we were ready to leave, there was another up and coming company ready to move in. This ecosystem is very important – not only are you sharing costs but knowledge. The mistakes NOT made because of the shared experiences … this is invaluable.”

But even with the knowledge gained and support of the Oregon food ecosystem, success is still hard to come by. Going from markets and shows to grocery freezers many times takes having a key person on your side.

Junea and Cameron found a champion in Denise Breyley, a local forager with Whole Foods. Denise travels the Northwest to find the best new products and produce to bring to Whole Foods, before anyone else sees them.

“Denise saw us at a food event early in our journey. She tasted our bread, loved it and gave us the chance with Whole Foods. We started in the Pearl store and grew from there. She has helped us get Brazi Bites into more stores, more regions of the country, even helped us with better shelf space.”

To honor the invaluable mentoring, Junea and Cameron give in return. It’s a way of recognizing the ecosystem does not thrive without putting in as much as you get out.

“Denise is always doing events for Whole Foods so we support her with product. And, we will meet with younger brands she is working with, to share our knowledge and experience.”

Sounds simple, right? Work hard and focus. Always listen to your customer. Adjust to market conditions, the next obstacle, the next lesson. Give back to the ecosystem that gave so much to you.

It also takes a good team of employees.

“The employees love working here because it’s a family company and they know that Cameron and I have done every single job here. We’ve mixed the dough, swept the floors, checked the freezers and they know this. Working side by side builds mutual respect.”

Success also takes something else – the guts and courage to put it all out there.

In November of last year, the couple went before the Sharks on the hit TV show Shark Tank.

“Shark Tank was one of the coolest experiences we’ve had, nerve wracking but you also know something big is happening. We went on the show with so much gratitude just to be there, that we actually had a blast.”

And of course, the Sharks loved the bread. Junea and Cameron are now negotiating a deal. The details are not ready to be released, but they will be shortly.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 3.29.32 PM

Growing by concentrating on the core

From a simple idea to being under the lights of Shark Tank, The Brazi Bites journey is one that has taken many twists and turns – so what’s next?

Currently Brazi Bites comes in four flavors: the original cheese bread plus Jalapeno Pepper Jack, Garlic Asiago and Nitrate-Free Bacon. That’s it for now for this “take and bake” style snack found in the frozen freezer department of over 1,000 grocery stores.

With the growth comes questions on how to expand and enhance the product line. Whether to add more flavors or brand extensions are questions many founders ask themselves. But to Junea and Cameron, the answers always tie back to being true to what they started. They realize that if you lose your focus, the core brand can go sideways, or worse, downhill altogether.

“We are staying really focused on Brazilian cheese bread, period. Potentially we might do more flavors and more sizes but we want to remain true to the original cheese bread line’” adding

“We work very hard and focus on the quality of our product. It’s a daily fight to make sure you make the best product while you continue to grow.”

Since September of last year, Brazi Bites sales have grown 10-fold per month.

bb pack v1“We don’t want to be another casualty of the food industry. ‘Oh you have the perfect artisanal product, everyone loves you, you have a great family story.’ And then you get so big your quality goes – you’re everywhere, and you have a horrible product because you grew too fast while trying to save another 5 cents.

We want to offer an artisanal product that has national distribution. Sometimes you have to say ‘no.’  We walked away from a lower quality of cheese and tapioca flour and said no to fillers. The margins would go up but the product would suffer.”

It all goes back to the original mantra of simple, genuine and real.

“Our story would not have happened anywhere else in the country, with the exception of maybe Austin, Texas and possibly Denver or New York City “ says Junea. “Because Portland knows about great food and artisanal products, you start your company out at a very high level, otherwise, you will not succeed. People here want the best of the best.”

The end game for Junea and Cameron?

“We want Brazi Bites to be in every freezer in every grocery store all over the country.”
They are well on their way.

For more information, visit www.brazibites.com. You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Instagram

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The proof is in the pork: The Elkhorn Farm and Forge Story

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Matt Alford quit eating meat in 1997 after reading Diet for a New America, which details the plight of animals raised in factory farm conditions.

It was the beginnings of a  journey that eventually led to the founding of Elkhorn Farm and Forge in Gaston, OR. It was not a predetermined journey or one that has been easy, but it certainly was rewarding.

The beginnings of a pig farmer

Matt’s vow to not eat meat took a bit of a turn after two years of soul searching.

“ I started hunting and gathering my own food so I could know exactly where my food came from, field to table. It was a  journey that led me to start raising my own goats as pack animals, and eventually I raised a few heritage breed pigs for my own consumption. “

He started with goats as the primary livestock on the farm, but the focus started to go towards pigs. The land and infrastructure requirements are similar for both animals, but pigs are easier to contain than goats, and they don’t need as much land or fence as cattle.  20150909_104307

“ I was able to start raising pigs using the farm assets I already owned (truck, trailer, shelter, waterers, fence, etc.) and that allowed me to get started without spending much additional money.  Along the way, I discovered that I really love being around pigs.”

His approach is based on pre-industrial methods where the pigs live outdoors on the pasture and forestland; free to roam, root, and run – in other words, be happy pigs. But starting a farm is anything but an easy task, and not for the unpassionate. But it’s a life that Matt had glimpses of in his youth.

“ As a kid I picked pole beans, strawberries, and raspberries for money.  In high school, I worked four years on a local farm growing and harvesting row crops, grass seed, and tending a small herd of cattle. However, I started my farm from scratch.”

Matt’s home and farm is situated on 1.8 acres and he leases and manages several properties nearby, which brings the total acreage up to 40.  In his perfect world, all the farmland would be contiguous, but as a startup, he is working with what is available.

“ It’s less efficient having multiple parcels of land, but I’ve been able to pick up under-utilized plots of ground and that has helped keep the costs down.”

But as with any startup, the costs to get going can add up quickly.

“ My biggest challenge was and continues to be time vs. money.  I scaled up the herd and grew the business by doing everything myself, working long hours 7 days a week to conserve cash.  I’m past the point where I can continue to grow the business simply by applying more of my time, so I need to invest in people and more infrastructure in order to keep up with the growth.”

1-20140531_165506Being out by yourself on 40 acres with nobody to talk to but the pigs can be refreshing, but Matt has also had the benefit of connecting to a community of resources as Elkhorn has grown.

“My friend, Will Woolley, is a co-founder of Templeton Hills Beef in California, where they raise grass-fed beef exclusively.  There’s a lot of overlap between our operations, and his willingness to share his experience has repeatedly helped me think through road blocks.  Locally, the non-profit Friends of Family Farmers has been a tremendous resource in terms of networking. The one thing that really gave me the confidence to buy a few pigs initially was the fact that my friend Brandon was already raising a few pigs each year for his own family.  We call each other when we have goat problems, and knowing that I could do the same with pigs was really important to me.”

With the farm and support network more established, Matt set out to source the pigs for Elkhorn. He searched and found a professional local hog breeder whom he could trust, one that could sell him top-quality stock and be another source of advice.

“I already had a great relationship with a local large animal veterinarian so I felt like I had a good support system in place.”

Bringing quality pork to the market

The taste of Elkhorn Farm and Forge’s pork is amazing, and it didn’t take long before the demand expanded beyond his family and friends. One of the most important aspects of being able to deliver quality pork on a consistent basis rest in the skilled hands of the butcher, so Matt set out to locate one by reaching out to the community for references.

“ I started calling and visiting slaughter facilities and butchers, while talking to everyone I knew who raised their own livestock.  As a livestock producer, your business is only as good as your last delivery from the butcher.  They can make or break your business, so I choose them carefully and make sure I’m a great customer to do business with on an ongoing basis.”1-LO4M0993

Elkhorn’s marketing started out as word of mouth and continues to be the best sales channel.  Matt sells directly to consumers and a few chefs over the phone and on his website. He’s purposely avoided selling to wholesalers and retail stores, primarily because he hasn’t needed to up to this point, and it doesn’t make sense from a margins standpoint. The farm is looking to potentially sell via farmer’s markets in the future.  

Matt’s foray into the farming business has opened his eyes to both the needs and opportunities in agriculture.

“ Farmers need technology that reduces labor and increases efficiency without abusing animals or the genetic integrity of plants.  In some places, technology is overused, while in others, technology and automation are sorely lacking.  As one example, a critical indicator of animal health is their internal body temperature, yet the market has yet to produce an affordable, reliable body temperature monitor for swine.  I should be able to get a proactive text message telling me when a pig’s body temperature is out of range or their daily exercise level is below normal.”

As it turns out, the local food culture really wants to know their farmer, and buy humanely-raised great tasting meat, which has resulted in the explosive demand for organic food in the United States. In Matt’s mind this creates great opportunities.

“ Forward-looking investors are forming real estate investment trusts (REITs), with the express purpose of buying conventional farmland and converting it to organic.  They hire consultants to manage the transition and lease the land back to farmers.  It’s a smart solution that solves critical financial hurdles for farmers while meeting a market need. Longer term, a big opportunity lies in urban agriculture.  There’s so much more that can be done to grow food within urban boundaries rather than trucking food in and trucking waste out.  People who live in cities yearn for the connection to the land and the taste of real food.  Urban planners, architects, and real estate developers who integrate the ability to grow food into their buildings and living spaces will capitalize on the deep seated emotional need of people to return to the land.”

Returning to the land is what he has done and it’s been a challenging, but hugely rewarding journey. It’s one that has taught him both entrepreneurial lessons and insights.

“ When things aren’t going as planned, be more flexible and take a step back rather than pushing forward.  I’ve made some bad situations worse by not wanting to deviate from my plan, when things would have turned out better if I’d just decided to give it some space and find another way.  You can get a long way applying steady pressure, but there are limits too.”

These are words that anyone who has started a business can relate to. But there are more intrinsic feelings and beliefs that truly sum up what Matt is doing at Elkhorn Farm and Forge. “ I really love being around pigs.  Being able to give them a great life on the farm and provide premium quality pork to local families is a win for everyone. “1-DSC02760

For more information visit, www.elkhornfarmandforge.com. You can also support them by liking them on facebook and following them on twitter.

FoodWorx: Re-thinking how (and why) you eat

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When people travel, usually uppermost in their minds is what they plan to see — landmark buildings, famous attractions, perhaps well-known works of art. Food is, for many, a secondary consideration of travel. They may want to eat well, but it is not always the main focus of a trip.

That is, unless they fall into a rapidly growing category called food travel. Food travel is the concept that says no matter where you go, you need to eat and drink. So why not enjoy a unique, local food experience and make a memory of it?

That philosophy is why Erik Wolf founded the World Food Travel Association, a Portland-based organization that he leads as Executive Director.

“There are people who travel to go to museums, there are people who travel for shopping, and there are people who travel to New York and London for theater,” Wolf says. “Well, I’m one of those people that travels for food. I end up in grocery stores. I end up in restaurants. I end up on food tours. I end up in food factories.”

The Post-it Note® brainstorm that blended two passions

Erik Wolf

Erik Wolf

Wolf already knew himself to be a “foodie.” Once, after a 15-hour flight to Singapore, rather than immediately collapse on his hotel bed, he noticed a large grocery store across the street and made a beeline for it.

“Jet lag didn’t matter. I was like a kid in a new amusement park. I was going around and seeing the different brands for sale, the different fruits on offer, all the unusual beverages. It was fascinating.”

At that point, however, it wasn’t necessarily a way to make a living. Wolf was working in the tech world in San Francisco. Then in 2001, he “smelled a layoff” and decided to uproot his life and start anew. He moved to Portland, Oregon, found an apartment, and put giant Post-It Notes on the walls to write down his passions and brainstorm a new career.

“What do I like doing? Where do I have connections? What am I good at? And it always came back to food and travel.”

Wolf decided to create a non-profit organization that blended his two passions.

“I wrote a white paper about Culinary Tourism to prove the value to our emerging industry and its potential economic impact. It was a popular paper that was sent around the world more times than I can remember.”

Within two years, he had formed a non-profit association: the International Culinary Tourism Association, which was re-branded as the World Food Travel Association (WFTA) in 2012. Since its inception as an education and trade resource, WFTA has grown to become the world’s leading authority on culinary tourism. It has published culinary travel guides, research on food and beverage tourism, produced dozens of events and conducted seminars to help food-related businesses get the word out to travelers.

A different form of sightseeing

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So what exactly is food travel? It is about helping travelers learn about and explore a local area’s food and beverage culture. That does not necessarily mean meals costing hundreds of dollars per person in a fancy restaurant. According to the WFTA, that kind of customer represents less than ten percent of the overall dining market. And since roughly 25 percent of any travel budget is spent on food, Wolf saw promoting local food and drink as a way to boost local economies and enhance the travelers’ experience.

It was an area of tourism promotion that was still ripe for development. The traditional focus of most tourism offices was on lodging and attractions. At best, there might be a small brochure naming a few restaurants, with no way of telling if those places had paid for the privilege of being listed. Chain restaurants were plentiful.

“When we talk to tourism offices now, often we have to reeducate them. Because they think: ‘Oh, we want the gourmet traveler’ or ‘We should be promoting our 150 cuisines!’ ”

Instead, Wolf says the best thing tourism offices can do is ‘plant the seed’ for good local dining, whether it’s the food cart/street vendor scene, or an area’s famous Key Lime pie. At first, it was an uphill battle. Then the recession of 2007 hit. Tourist offices closed, or their budgets were severely slashed. To cope, they began to look for different things to promote. The WFTA was already poised to help them discover how to package and promote local food cultures to travelers.

Not that all travelers are willing to go outside their comfort zone.

“You will not convince all people to try local food. Some people do all-inclusive packages and that’s fine for them. But then, there’s a level of consumer that does care about where things come from—how food is made and where it’s sourced.”

FoodWorx and the impact of food

Those people are the target markets for the food and beverage tourism industry. The numbers are growing each year. The WFTA expanded its services with lectures and a one-day conference called FoodWorx that explores all issues food-related.

ew photo 13“There are all these food and drink events. Most are great but there’s more to discuss than just sitting there and eating fancy foods and drinking expensive wines. We want to know, what did it take to get that to you? Who was involved in the production of that food? How much fuel was spent to get it to you? And help consumers realize how food impacts their everyday lives.”

FoodWorx 2016 is the fourth annual conference and is expected to attract about 450 people to hear nine speakers and two panels discuss a variety of food issues.

“We take food and combine it with another industry. Whether it’s food and industry, food and tourism, food and technology, food and music, food and health. And then we find an expert to talk about that. Local food and drink samples pepper the day’s talks.”

Who attends?

“It runs the gamut. You get concerned citizens, teachers, retirees, students, journalists and everyday people. You get foodies, restaurant owners, winery people. Plus, a lot of food and drink manufacturers, who come to learn about new industry trends. People travel from all over the world to attend.”

This year’s FoodWorx will be held Saturday, February 20 2016 at the Smith Memorial Union at Portland State University. Live streaming will be available for delegates who cannot attend in person. The forum has become so popular that other cities including Barcelona and Bilbao in Spain want to host their own local FoodWorx, as does Jakarta, Indonesia.

More impact, more innovation

When Wolf founded WTFA, the local food movement was truly in its infancy. Oddly enough, the tragedy of 9-11 had a big impact on people’s interest in food.

“It made people go back in and think about what’s comfortable—family and food. And the local food movement just mushroomed tremendously after 9-11. While he acknowledges that the WFTA can’t take the credit for the local food movement, he does believe that the WFTA was the early trendsetter in promoting food as attraction.”

EW photo 1Wolf says many people talk about the profound impact that the WFTA has had on the world’s tourism industry. “It’s fulfilling to know that we were there at the table, ushering in professionals, helping them to see the potential of promoting food and drink as attractions. And now, as our organization is 14 years old, we have to continue to reinvent ourselves, not rest on our laurels, (and) make sure we’re continuing to innovate, make sure that we’re bringing new and relevant products to market.”

Where does Wolf want this all to lead?

“World domination!”

But in all seriousness, Wolf sees almost unlimited potential for Food Travel. The WFTA has a new annual publication coming out in 2016, titled: Food Trekking in Cascadia. It focuses on the food and drink culture of our Cascadian region. While he may have started out thinking of the overseas traveler’s food experience, Wolf is adamant you don’t have to be a world traveler to be a food tourist. For some, it may mean just heading across town to a new neighborhood to try a new café or pub or wine bar.

Wolf is a firm believer that good food is everywhere—if you know where to look. His life’s mission is to show you where.

Many thanks to KC Cowan for her help and support on this piece

For more information on FoodWorx 2016, visit http://www.FoodWorxConference.com, or find them on Twitter or Facebook .  Built Oregon is one of the marketing sponsors of this event. 

From boat to pouch: The Oregon Seafoods story

4lb Pouches

Many people have ideas about starting a business around mom’s home cooking.

For Mike Babcock, Founder of Sea Fare Pacific and an avid sport fisherman, the food he wanted to bring to market was fresh home canned pacific albacore tuna from the Oregon coast. Mike and his family have canned their own tuna for years, and thus, he was very aware of the taste and quality difference.

Mike had the realization that if fresh tuna could be canned like his mom used to do, there would be many people wanting to enjoy the taste.

“Oregon Seafood started in 2010 as a small canning operation to process fish products that did not get sold fresh in the fish market I had helped fund to get started,” he said. “It was a way to utilize product that may go to waste. It seemed like a good idea at the time — but I really didn’t know what that entailed — much more involved than I anticipated (not as simple as putting a few jars into a steam cooker on the stove top). The business naturally grew as we had to generate enough revenue to support the growing complexity of the business.“

Mike’s business background was not in fish or seafood, but rather, wood. It’s a business journey that touches on two keystone industries in Oregon.Funnel & Seal Check

From wood to fish

Mike founded Northwest Fir Products in Creswell Oregon in 1993. The company was primarily a small log operation specializing in producing stud logs for Willamette Industries and fence posts for retailers.

“When I started, I’m almost embarrassed to say that I didn’t know the difference between a doug fir and an alder log (he says with a smile). I had no previous experience in wood products and purchased my first mill while it was buried in snow over in Bend, Oregon.“

In 2004, Mike founded Goshen Forest Products as a larger small log operation specializing in cutting stud length lumber out of logs up to 12″ in diameter, and also producing fence posts and poles. Both operations have done well with a strong and consistent customer base, many of whom have been with Northwest Fir Products and Goshen Forest Products from the start.

“Growing the operation from a handful to 75 employees certainly had its challenges and I believe that this growth, which has had an impact on all phases of the business, prepared us to accomplish the same thing in seafood manufacturing.”

With the processes in place at Goshen Forest Products, Mike looked for a new challenge and became a partner in a retail fish market in Coos Bay. While analyzing ways to help the retail fish shop, an opportunity arose around seafood processing and manufacturing.

“Initially as I looked beyond processing fish for the market, Albacore was an underutilized species. Most of the catch was being sent outside of the US for processing, and fishermen were getting less for their catch than they did 20 years ago. It was hard to believe that the fish were being sent overseas to process and then shipped back into the US for sale. Being naive to cheap container movement and extremely low labor costs, I thought we could put together a business model that could compete with more expensive American labor.”

Charleston, OR Processing Plant

Charleston, OR Processing Plant

So Mike made the leap and went all in on developing a processing plant on the Oregon coast, which included putting $1 Million of his own money into the project. But as with any new venture, he analyzed potential locations for the processing plant, many of which were not in Coos Bay.

“Being new to the Coos Bay area I really didn’t have many ties here, other than a few tree farms I had relationships with. As we looked to build a new facility, I looked as far North as Newport and even considered the I-5 corridor. The longer I’m here, the more important this community becomes. I do have a strong desire to build a business here on the South Coast that will support many family wage jobs and help people grow to their fullest potential. “

Freezer Space

Freezer Space

Finding the needed rigging

With a focus on building the business in the Coos Bay community, Mike worked with the local SBDC center to help get the facility up and running in an efficient timeframe.

“SBDC was not involved in the beginning, but they are instrumental in allowing us to take the next step in getting the new facility built. Without their help we would be stuck building out the new facility at a much slower pace (as available cash came in the door). Not only did they help with the business plan, they worked with lenders to help put the financing together. On top of all that, they are great cheerleaders and continue to support us with a positive ‘can do’ attitude. Theresa Haga has been the point person and I can’t say enough good things about her. She really got it done.”

Processing Room

Processing Room

Mike will be the first one to tell you that the original business model, one that can compete with more expensive American labor, is currently still a work in progress. Oregon Seafoods has not been able to get their pricing down to match offshore produced Albacore tuna, but the team is learning more about the many variables associated with the seafood processing and distribution equation, and refining the model.

“Not all fish are sourced in the Pacific Northwest even if they are marketed that way. The majority of Albacore are caught in other oceans, including older adult breeding fish with potential mercury issues. These fish are a lot less expensive than the younger (2-4 year old) juvenile fish (clean and healthy) we catch and process here. Therefore we are focusing on marketing a higher end product in higher end stores. We are building a trusted brand that over time will add more value to the fish and to the guys who catch these fish.“

But a trusted brand is more than just a name and tasting good. It’s about the full product cycle; from the relationships with the fishermen/women to how the fish is processed and ultimately delivered to the customer.

This focus on the full cycle is helping to position the brand for retail and community success.

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Innovative packaging and sustainable fishing

As Mike ramped up the processing, he spoke to several local fishing veterans about Albacore and their markets. What he found was support for the vision he had for Oregon Seafoods, as they felt they were getting taken advantage of in regards to pricing. The fishermen seemed excited to have another potential market.

But the fishermen also provided some valuable feedback on how best to package the fresh caught Albacore. Fishing veterans, Rick Goche , F/V Peso II, and Mark and Cynthia Schneider, F/V Sea Princess (members of the albacore commission) steered him towards an earth-friendly pouch.

“The Albacore commission had already funded testing of the retort pouch at Oregon Sea Grant (OSU test retort facility in Astoria). Mark Whitham did the work and was a big factor that led us to pursue the opportunity. It seems like the US lags the rest of the world on adopting newer technologies, including understanding and accepting pouches as they have been widely accepted in Asia as well as Europe. So I decided to take a calculated gamble and invested in a Toyo Jidoki pouch machine.”

Pouch Packaging Process

Pouch Packaging Process

The pouches not only preserve the fresh caught taste, but are also free of chemicals like BPA and are less environmentally taxing to make, which is part of an overall emphasis on sustainability.

All of the Albacore that Oregon Seafoods uses in their Sea Fare Pacific branded products is troll caught, which prevents overfishing and by-catch (catching sea animals like turtles and dolphins). These fish are also caught in Oregon and support Oregon based fishing families.

Something that Mike will continue to support even as the Sea Fare Pacific product line grows.

“We have settled into Charleston, OR for the near future. As we continue to evolve into a food company (soup production for instance) the business would be better suited closer to I-5, which is a hurdle we’ll jump when we come to it. As we grow our seafood processing, there may be an opportunity to build another plant somewhere on the Coast; probably focus to the North as that seems to be where the Albacore are concentrated.”

They are looking to grow the private label business, and look to opportunities to also private label for other seafood companies. Oregon Seafoods has also begun exporting with some going to China, and with all of this momentum comes more challenges and opportunities.

“The biggest challenge is finishing up our new facility project with the right equipment so we can continue to meet our growth goals. The biggest opportunities will come with the added production capability and the new certifications we will have; we have lots of interest and it is very likely the new plant will be to capacity in a very short period of time.”

And for all of us who love fresh caught seafood, the Sea Fare Pacific products are scattered across the US, from small independent stores to a few big retailers like WalMart and Amazon.

Harvester (4)

For more information visit www.oregonseafoods.com & www.seafarepacific.com , like them on facebook and follow them on twitter

Cracking the entrepreneurial code: an interview with Augusto Carneiro, co-founder of Nossa Familia

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When you walk into Nossa Familia’s espresso bar and roasting facility in Northwest Portland’s Pearl District, the atmosphere is thick with an intoxicating aroma. It’s the farm-to-roaster-to-espresso machine-to table cycle in full display, punctuated by the smiling and friendly faces of the employees there. But there is more than just delicious coffee to be found.

Behind the coffee shop is the roastery, distribution center, and corporate offices. Partnering with Community Vision, a local organization that finds meaningful employment for adults with disabilities, Nossa Familia hires their clients on a daily basis to stamp bags needed for bulk distribution and do other tasks.

IMG_7311 (1)In addition, Nossa Familia has an entire classroom set up with brewing equipment and espresso makers. They teach classes so that anyone can learn to be an expert barista in their own home (see nossacoffee.com for more info on all the services they offer).

It’s a grounded, sustainable and growing business that has been 11 years in the making, led by co-founder and CEO Augusto Carneiro.

Carneiro was raised in Rio de Janeiro, but came to Oregon in 1996 where he attended the University of Portland and earned a degree in engineering. He also met his wife in college. Soon after graduation they were married and became a successful professional couple with good jobs. They bought their own home and started a family. Carneiro was achieving what many of us hope to secure—an education, a career, a home, and family.

And yet for Carneiro, something was amiss.

We recently had a chance to chat with Carneiro at his facility over some fresh brewed espresso; here is a condensed and edited account of a fascinating and engaging founder story and interview.

Winging it in a competitive market

Built Oregon: Thanks for joining us today. So why on earth were you thinking about going off on your own and leaving that secure situation? What was it all about?

Carneiro: I’d wake up in the morning, and it was so hard to get out of bed to go to my engineering job. The company was a fine company. They had good educational programs. I just wasn’t built for it.

Nobody likes to be disappointed with where they are in life. But my advice is, if you are really dreading your day job, just start smiling and figuring out that you have an opportunity to say, “okay, this sucks”. So you’ve already tried something in life that you know you don’t like. Start thinking about other things that you would like.

Built Oregon: Oregon has an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is creative and inspiring, where many people decide to take on established verticals, business sectors that most everyone would perceive to be very, very hard to get into – like coffee, for instance. (There are more than 60 roasters in Portland.)

So why in the world did you get into coffee?

Carneiro: Ignorance is bliss. I think part of it is “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

One of my traits is not to worry about the details. So it’s surprising that I made it through engineering school. And it’s not surprising that I didn’t enjoy being an engineer.

IMG_2541I was already seeing that being an engineer was not, perhaps, the path, and so I talked to a cousin, who had started a roasting company in Brazil. He already had a very successful export company exporting green coffee beans, and (during a trip to Brazil in 2004) we sat down to talk about potentially selling coffee in the U.S.

He was very supportive and sent me to the U.S. with a box. I had a box of 70 pounds of coffee, and it was roasted and vacuum packed. I gave most of it away to family and friends and neighbors, sold some of it, and got really great reviews.

Built Oregon: So it was really just, “Here, take this back with you. See what you can do with it.”

Carneiro: Yes.

Built Oregon: So at the time you were, like, “Okay. I’ll try.” It wasn’t like the passion really hit you yet?

Carneiro: I sat down and I wrote what I thought was a business plan. Again, I went to engineering school, so we don’t have to write business plans. What I wrote was really a marketing plan, listing all the bike shops that I knew, and the bike races and promoters.

I thought, “We’re going to show up to bike events with coffee.” Essentially, that’s what we started doing.

A lot of people come into an industry because they have a passion for the product. Most of the other coffee roasters in town, they became coffee geeks, and then they start a coffee company.

I was not a coffee geek beforehand, and I tell people, if my family had been growing cacao, I’d have a chocolate company. For me, it has always been about the people, the people growing it and our customers, and now our employees.

In the beginning, I didn’t even know how to brew coffee. I just winged it.

We bought this $250 little home espresso machine at a trade show, and we took that to some bike events. At the beginning we showed up to bike races, and I have a friend, he was a big home barista. I had him come over and teach me how to make espressos.

Built Oregon: What happened after you sold that first batch?

Carneiro: We didn’t start it right away. I came back…and then started talking to different people about coffee and how you do this.

I met with a colleague from college. He had a bunch of good questions. I’m, like, “You know what? Do you want to just be a business partner?”

He said “Okay”, so we each put $400 in, and opened the first bank account. This was August 2004.

He had studied business. He knew a thing or two more, knew the right questions to ask. I was sold.

But we still had no clue. Looking back, if I was going to start a business I would have this whole process I’d follow, and we’d be going in three months instead of a year and a half. But again, I was about to have my second child, and had a full time job.

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Making connections and finding a vision

Built Oregon: You were still in your engineering job at this point, correct?

Carneiro: Yes. We started phone calls and meeting for lunch, and meeting in the evening, and going to a few spots and events with our coffee.

We were selling it to neighbors and friends. I was selling it to coworkers at work. We started our first website, and we did some small web sales. But it was really slow. It’s a lot of steps to start a brand. Even picking the name.

Built Oregon: How did you come up with the name Nossa Familia?

Carneiro: We did a naming exercise where we came up with a bunch of names, and then we sent it out to a bunch of people. It included everything from Volcano Coffee to Brazilian Coffee to Copacabana Coffee, a bunch of stuff.

We were having a really hard time, and then I went to a meeting (with his partner). He was, like, “I decided on a name- Nossa Familia” (translates to “our family” in English).

I said “Awesome, let’s go.”

Eventually somebody has to put a foot down.  And it was funny, because all of the feedback we got, one of the people that liked Nossa Familia said, “I like Nossa Familia. It kind of sounds like the mafia.”

fullcycleI’m, like, “Yeah.” But it describes who we are, and it describes our uniqueness.

Looking back now, what really happened is we were shooting from the hip. We both had full time jobs.

Built Oregon: When did you finally quit your job?

Carneiro: May of 2005.  But I still took no paycheck from the company. My first paycheck from the company was in 2007, so it took a long time.

(In late 2005) we went to U.S. Bank, and got a line of credit for $35,000.

Built Oregon: By late 2005, what were your sales like, and where were you selling?

Carneiro: If I look at my 2005 sales total, it was probably $40,000. That included sales from my cycling connections, and I got introduced to the people that run Cycle Oregon.

Built Oregon: Cycle Oregon – that’s an interesting connection.

Carneiro: I showed up with a BOB trailer and rode a couple of days, and promoted our coffee. Then we did one day where we sold bags of coffee, and in September 2005, we had one day where we sold $1,000 worth.

I still remember thinking, “A thousand dollars of sales in one day!”

Then the other cool thing is, the director of the ride, every time we’d meet he’d say “When are we going to go mountain biking in Brazil?”

I said “Okay, let’s go.”, and he said “Okay. I’ll get a few people together.”

IMG_2325I then put together our first mountain biking coffee tour (in Brazil) in November 2005. It was eight people (including the director of Cycle Oregon). It was our first coffee tour.

We didn’t really make that much money out of it, but it was so fun. This is why I started the business. One, to bring the farm to the people, but also to bring people to the farm and really showcase the transparency. And when people come back from there, they are huge advocates for the company.

They really see just how beautiful the farm is, and how well it’s run, and how happy everybody is there.

Built Oregon: So on that trip in 2005 you really made a very personal connection between your family past, and then this business.

Carneiro: It took three years for me. Sometimes things just take longer for you to realize your “why”.

I grew up in Rio. My dad was an electrical engineering professor, but we would spend all of the holidays at the farm. Three months out of the year, we’re at the farm. My grandma has a lot of cattle as well.

We would learn how to ride horses at five or six, but he was pretty protective. He wouldn’t let us go out on our own. But then, when I turned eight, he started having me going out with the cowboys. I was the second oldest grandchild. Now they have 27 grandkids. My mom is the oldest of ten.

Going to the farm, it’s this beautiful, big house. You imagine, as a kid, you have loads of aunts and uncles and you have loads of cousins running around. It’s super fun.

But I was one of the only grandkids that really enjoyed horseback riding, and when I was eight my grandpa started waking me up at 5:30 a.m. He’s the father of ten. He’s old school. It wasn’t like, “Okay, dear. Let’s get up.”

It was more like, “Time to go! Get up!”

Then I would have breakfast with them and my uncles. Now I realize they were doing their daily huddle. They were talking about who is doing what that day, and what the tasks were, and what needed to be done. Then I would go off with cowboys.

IMG_3614We would go herd cattle, and I vividly remember, especially in the winter. It’s pretty cold up there. I had wool mittens and a bunch of layers, and the sun is rising at 6:30 a.m., and I vividly remember riding my horse and thinking desperately that I really wanted all my friends to Rio to come and ride horses with me in the farm.

I wanted to bring everybody to the farm because it was so cool and so beautiful.

I think that’s the analogy.

Built Oregon: That’s where the connection came.

Carneiro: I really want to share that feeling and emotion with everybody. In November (2015) we’re going for our sixth coffee tour.

Everybody has their path

Built Oregon: What happened once you found your vision?

Carneiro: We came back and we said “We need to get our ducks in a row.” So we really launched the company in May of 2006.

This might be something that other entrepreneurs relate with. For a while I couldn’t tell people when we started. If we were talking to banks, we’d say, “Oh, we’ve been in business since 2004,” because we wanted to appear more established.

IMG_7373If we’re talking to other people, I don’t know. You’re in America and we hear about multi-millionaires, the overnight millionaires, the overnight successes.

So here we are in 2006, and we’re still slogging. I’m still not getting paid, and it just felt wrong to say, “Oh, yeah, we’ve been at this for two years now.”

It didn’t feel successful.

Only two years ago did we claim, or say, “We’ve been in business since 2004” This is when we started.

It was because of Cycle Oregon, because I realized, “Holy cow, this is our 10th Cycle Oregon. I need to own up to the fact that we’re a ten year-old company, and who cares if it has taken ten years to get there. Everybody has their path.”

Built Oregon:  You hadn’t yet started to roast your coffee locally- when did that happen?

Carneiro: In 2005, most of our shipments were FedEx. Then, in 2006, we brought a few palettes by boat. It took awhile to get here. I’m thinking “This is going to be tough competing with roasters (in Portland) that are claiming that, if your coffee is not roasted the day before, it’s bad.”

But really, we wanted to be that premium, high end, local coffee. We knew that selling coffee that was six weeks after roast date was going to be tough.

Sometime in 2006 I convinced my grandpa to let me bring in a container consignment. Essentially, my grandpa financed a container, and a container is 40,000 pounds of raw coffee.

So what we did is, that container was two thirds to three quarters green beans, and one third to one quarter was roasted coffee.

Again, the coffee wasn’t old. It just wasn’t as fresh as the competition.

Espresso BeansWe realized the coffee we had was very nice and drinkable, but not as fresh as Portlanders wanted it. I have all this coffee. Let’s just have Kobos (a coffee roaster in Northwest Portland) roast it for us, so we’d have locally roasted coffee.

So that’s what we did.

My thought was, my family (in Brazil) has the cultural know-how. We’re going to buy the cream of the crop. It comes in to Kobos. Then, they roast it based on the roast levels that we have, and we do all of the sales, marketing, and distribution.

So that was 2006, and we had a pretty good year. We went from $40,000 (in sales) to $75,000 in 2006, and to $290,000 in 2007. Then $600,000 in 2008 – (that year) we got into the University of Portland and New Seasons.

Built Oregon: And this was under the same sort of arrangement, where you had someone doing the roasting for you?

Carneiro: Yes. We only started roasting ourselves in 2012.

Built Oregon: When you opened this facility, right?

Carneiro: Yes.

Built Oregon:  So you just kept hustling, trying to get into more stores?

Carneiro: Grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries.

Built Oregon: And you had a sales staff, or was it this you?

Carneiro: Me and my partner.

Built Oregon: Just knocking on doors, using your charm?

Carneiro: That’s right {smiling}

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Shoving up the ceiling (with an innovative roaster)

Built Oregon: Because of the logistics involved of counting on these palettes of coffee to come from Brazil, and the potential bad weather, was there ever a moment where you had to just say, “I can’t deliver. I can’t get it done”?

Carneiro: Product was never a problem. The farms are very successful.

They started in the 1890s, those four brothers. They did really well. They bought more land. So now there’s five different coffee farms in the family. My cousin owns an export company.

Combined, the family probably produces four million pounds of coffee. We buy maybe 10% of one of the farm’s production.

Built Oregon: And you still worked out of your house at that time (2007), yes?

Carneiro: 2007 was the year that, essentially, my wife was tired of us being in the house. Here she had this new baby, and it was a one bathroom house that we had to share.

So we bought the first official company vehicle, and we went to an actual warehouse.

Built Oregon: And then the recession hit, and you leveled off a little bit?

Carneiro: The minimum growth we’ve ever had is 11%.

Built Oregon: So you still kept growing?

Carneiro: We still kept growing, but at $600,000, we were projecting bigger growth because we had been growing 100%. “Of course we can grow 100% every year.” We just thought it was that easy. It was only a couple of years later, looking back, we said, “Oh, that was ceiling number one.”

Photo Oct 16, 12 44 22 PMEssentially, from the $600,000 to $1.2 million, was us pushing the ceiling up, and only last year did we crack through the ceiling again. And we didn’t break it. We just kept shoving it up.

2009 was rough, because it was also the buyout year (Carneiro bought out his original partner). 2010 and 2011 were still rough years. I was by myself. We started losing some of our corporate accounts, because of corporate changes. But even with losing $100,000 of business, we were still growing overall.

Then in 2012, our numbers were a little bit better. We were able to get financing to buy the roaster. We secured this location and moved here in November.

Built Oregon: And that financing was from U.S. Bank?

Carneiro: Yes. U.S. Bank gave us the $75,000 to buy the roaster. It was a great deal.

Built Oregon: How much do they usually cost?

Carneiro: They’re $130,000 new.

Built Oregon:  And it adds all this energy efficiency.

Carneiro: Yes. That’s where the engineering background came in.

It was the engineering know-how without the coffee “geekiness”.

What happened is, this was a new technology (a Loring Coffee Roaster, which has an embedded afterburner and is able to recirculate the heat, saving 80% of energy compared to a conventional roaster).

Photo Oct 16, 11 11 01 AMIt’s a company out of Santa Rosa that started in the early 2000s. They hadn’t yet really proved themselves. There are a few people that like them, because it’s not a traditional drum roaster. The drum is fixed. Hot air roasters have a bad name, but this is a hybrid.

It wasn’t a proven technology, and I ask, “Well, how does the coffee taste?” The only other one in Oregon was in Eugene, so I stopped by over there and I called them, and they really liked it. Then I heard about this guy who won Roaster of the Year award, best coffee at this trade show, and he roasted on a Loring.

I think, “If this guy can win this award (using it), the other people are just talking without experience.”

We bought roaster number six (the sixth one ever built, purchased from another roaster who didn’t like it), and it has been really great.

The Oregon community lends a hand

Built Oregon:  Tell us about some of the help you’ve had along the way from state agencies and recourses, like the Oregon Small Business Development Center (OSBDC) and Grow Oregon (www.bizcenter.org).

Carneiro:  Early on I took a class from the OSBDC (around the time he bought out his partner and went forward on his own). I realized, you know what, I need to own it. I need to learn it. I need to learn it for myself. I took one of their business management classes, and it was really good.

And then recently Grow Oregon got in touch, saying, “Hey, we help companies.”

At that point, this was a year and a half ago. We were starting to look at expanding. We had an initial meeting with them to talk about the company and what it is that they could potentially help us with, and we said, “Well, there’s one, market research. We think we know who our demographic is, but we don’t know, and we are interested in expanding (beyond Portland)”.

To us, that was the highest value they provided, is by sitting down with us and helping us think it through.

By working with them (in conjunction with The Southern Oregon University Market Research Institute, funded in part by a donation from U.S. Bank), it forced us, internally, to look at who our demographic was. They have access to studies. They call it the “tapestry” (ESRI Tapestry Segmentation). There are 67 tapestry segments (in the U.S) of suburbanites, soccer moms and different types of people, at different income levels.

We had a few monthly meetings with them, and they worked with the group that does the research.

Built Oregon: So it’s helping you define those out-of-Portland markets without having to go there and make the mistake of them not working?

Carneiro: Yes. A lot of us like to think we have these great gut instincts. Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes they are a stomach ache.

Built Oregon: It sounds like they approached you to offer their help at just the right time, when you were thinking about expanding, and they had the reach and research capability to really provide you with some valuable help.

Carneiro: Yeah. I would have had no idea to really do market research. Do we pay somebody thousands of dollars? Do we do multiple trips? I think the fact that we specifically wanted to use the research to expand out of Oregon was an ideal fit.

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The future (and cracking the code)

Built Oregon: Paint us a picture a year from now, two years from now. You’ve invested your heart, your soul, into this. So where do you want it to be?

Carneiro: There’s a lot of ways to answer this.

Our goal, since opening the roastery and the espresso bar, has been to be one of the top in Portland. One of our core values is confidence with humility. So we never say we want to be ‘the’ best in Portland. We want to be known among the best in Portland, because there are some great roasters out there.

IMG_4714But we also want to be the friendliest. One of the acronyms and motives for the company that I created is ABMF, Always Be Making Friends, and we use that a lot. Even my kids are getting tired of me saying it, and it works.

Where we want to be business-wise? Two years ago we set the goal of doubling in size in two years, and we’re almost there. I want to crack through the ceiling again. We want to be in new markets.

What has happened in my entrepreneurial journey is, I’m just now getting ambitious. We just now cracked the entrepreneurial code.

I realize, why not me? These other companies did it. Why can’t we become a national player? Why can’t we become one of the 100 best companies to work for in Oregon?

We’re going be the first B Corp. coffee company in Portland. We’re at 79 points (just under the required minimum of 80 points).

Built Oregon: That’s awesome. This has really been great, we can’t thank you enough.

Carneiro: Yes. It was really fun.

To find out more about Nossa Familia, find them at their website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Postscript: For more information about Oregon Small Business Development Center and Grow Oregon, contact The Oregon Small Business Development Center Network, www.bizcenter.org. The OSBDCN provides advising, training, online courses, and resources for businesses. The 19 conveniently-located centers throughout Oregon offer assistance for every aspect of business development and management.

The Wine Left Behind: How Rogue Creamery became a global cheese leader

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A while back, just after the imagined calamity of Y2K and the real calamity of 9/11, a Harry & David vice president and a microbiologist thought it would be really quite nice to restore a historic building in Ashland, Oregon and open a wine and cheese bar. With renovations underway in the city’s boutique Railroad District, they decided to connect with a local cheese vendor. They were convinced celebrating all things local would be a hit. It seemed like a good plan.

They decided they didn’t need the wine. The restoration stopped and a new business plan was launched.

“I was taken by the craft of cheesemaking the first day,” says Harry & David veep turned Rogue Creamery President David Gemmels.

Cheese connoisseurs are equally taken with the legacy cheese products founded by the Vella family during the Great Depression and elevated to a new level of excellence under the leadership of Gemmels and his partner, CEO Cary Bryant.

10636092_10152673844163737_4746405383185978910_nRogue Creamery’s signature product is its line of blue cheese, which has a list of accolades that reads like Meryl Streep’s IMDb page. Caveman Blue was named one of the top 60 cheeses in the world—a Super Gold Winner—at World Cheese Awards in London in 2014. Pile on a host of other awards, write-ups in standard bearers like The New York Times, distribution on the menus and shelves of cultural food mainstays like Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco, and you get a sense of the heady acclaim of the rural Oregon cheese company.

Some even argue that Rogue Creamery’s success and influence extends to the entire artisan food movement that is so pronounced in Oregon.

“The owners of Rogue Creamery created the artisan movement in Oregon…” Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture once said. “They are the real reason why Oregon’s artisan cheese makers are so successful.”

Gemmels, 54, doesn’t hide his surprise and dismay, brushing away with a laugh any notion that all of this was somehow part of a designed master plan.

“We thought we’d open a cheese and wine bar and make cheese a few days a week and life would be great. This just kind of took over. Now, there is no stopping our commitment to this business.”

Recession proof

Not lost on its owners is the reality that this business that started in the midst of the Great Depression has thrived in the midst of a Great Recession.

“It’s resilience through this economy is amazing,” Gemmels says. “We’ve seen its resilience move between food service and full-service deli and direct to consumer and it keeps unfolding.”  10320935_10152776379338737_3979196385482581151_o

Just what is it about cheese that is so recession proof?

“It’s sustenance,” Gemmels says simply. “It’s what truly brings people to the table for conversation. And it’s not only a food, but it’s also something we put in that category of desirable food.”

Get him talking about the aura of cheese and Gemmels hits a different level, switching artfully from the prose of business to the poetry of artistic creation.

“Cheese is mindful, healthy, stored energy that’s been cultured and aged to perfection and its complex in experience that delivers just that … an experience,” he says.

This complexity attracts Gemmels anew regularly, he says. He never lost the enthusiasm he felt that first day learning how to make cheese from former owner Ignazio Vella, a man the company refers to as “The Godfather of Artisan Cheese Industry.”

Replication and evolution

Those first days were long days for both Gemmels and Bryant as they took the family recipes and knowledge of how to make its signature cheese from Vella, who in turn learned directly from his father. Rogue Creamery Founder Tom Vella worked with cheese his entire life until his death at the age of 100.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 12.17.33 PMGemmels says that family legacy, the pride of place, and the recipes themselves attracted them to the business.

“These are brands we grew up with in the Pacific Northwest,” Gemmels says. “We felt it was necessary to preserve those recipes. Both Cary and I shared fond memories of those cheeses being stocked in our family’s refrigerators and enjoyed at meals.”

It was a long tradition that Gemmels and Bryant were determined to honor. The pair worked nearly every day for four straight years, Gemmels says.

The problem, as any Italian kid can relate to, is transferring those intrinsic and artistic recipes into a repeatable, scientific, accurate formula that could be perfected and repeated.

“There were a lot of variables,” Gemmels says. “We wanted to narrow that and understand how to control the quality of the cheeses.”

Gemmels said the task of documentation fell largely on Bryant, a microbiologist by training. “We had to document the recipes, the temperature, the pH levels, the salt and all of the ingredients, the Affinage (a French word for the aging and curing of cheese) and understand the cheese through its life at Rogue Creamery.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 12.23.31 PMIn this arduous process both men became more than business owners. They became cheesemakers, starting with two recipes that had been used for seven decades, Oregon Blue and Oregonzola.

“The recipes for the two cheeses that Rogue Creamery was making when we purchased the business are basically the same formulation now as they were then,” Bryant says. “Of course since then, with cheesemaker classes and advanced training, we have developed our own recipes for seven new blues we produce. We wanted to stay true to the original cheeses but we also wanted to have new recipes that introduced our flavor profiles and interests and also the terroir of our region.”

They set a very high bar, one Gemmels says remains the guideposts for all the company does.

“We have quality standards that are really high,” he says.

The two men and one employee grew into a business than now has more than 50 employees, each dedicated, Gemmels says, to maintaining those guideposts of excellence. Budding cheesemakers now go through a seven-tier, multi-year training process to ensure the exacting standards and the rapid company growth.

“The business continues to unfold,” he adds.

This unfolding includes a new line of fresh cheese, like mozzarella and burata, ice-cream bases, and even its own ice cream that will launch around press time. Look out Ben, look out Jerry. Here comes Dave and Cary.

Poetry is infectious around Gemmels.

The ice cream was developed in connection with Oregon State University. It will feature Rogue Creamery’s “milk profile,” as Gemmels calls it, and will celebrate the local pride of place that is never far from Gemmels’ thoughts. Honey is the future ice cream’s sweetener of choice, with a custard base. Flavors will include local chocolate, Oregon nuts, local berries and local names like “Pilot Rock Swirl,” he says.

The growth fuels the owners’ passion that spills over into charitable giving, a novel bike commuting incentive plan and careful focus on environmental protection, despite a massive new investment in the construction of a dairy farm in Grants Pass. Cows have long been on the opposite side of environmentalists, earning scorn for their gassy contribution to global warming and their heavy-footed trampling of the ground, among other criticisms.

Sustainable dairy overcomes ‘bad rap’

So, about this “sustainable” dairy farm…

Gemmels is unflinching, even quickly offering a must-read book for those serious about the issue called, Cows Save the Planet, by Judith Schwartz.

“The rap is false. It’s not proven. They do generate some gas with every burp,” he says with a laugh, “but it’s certainly in no competition with the automobile and with other fossil fuels.”

The Rogue Creamery dairy farm will be an “eco-cathedral to cows,” he says. More importantly it will Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 12.20.05 PMcontinue the method of production the business uses that unveils its process to the viewing public, “from start to finish,” he says. “Our vats are visible in the Rogue Creamery store. Our cows are visible from the Rogue Creamery dairy.”

The cows are tended by two robots named Matilda and Charlie, Gemmels enthuses, “in a healthy, happy environment.” They are grazers of the local land running adjacent to the Rogue River that imparts the local flavor.

“The beautiful thing about our mix of browns, Holsteins and few jerseys here and there,” Gemmels says, “is that we have that wonderful composition of butter fat and creams that is a signature for Rogue cheeses.”

The cows do their part to help the environment by building needed top soil that sequesters carbon in accordance with the principles of Schwartz’s book.

The eco-cathedral to cows will “showcase an organic dairy that is offset by solar power that creates inspiration for the next generation of farmer that can manage it with an iPhone and using the technology of today.”

Long way from a wine and cheese shop

Exactly the opposite of the slow, intricate process that ages cheese is the frenetic pace of the business growth. Further expansion is inevitable.

“The business is at that stage of growing beyond our comprehension, which is so exciting for us and our community,” he says. “We see the next stage as bringing in some partners that will help us move it to that next level sustainably.”

Gemmels embraces the growth so long as future partners embrace the focus on community and the exacting standards necessary for a globally recognized cheese. The benefit of growth, Gemmels says, is more employees with a livable wage and a positive working environment, which impacts every level of the business, including the cheese, he insists.10688371_10152978880398737_1293249453000364515_o

“You can truly taste that in the cheese; the energy you have and impart is reflected in that. You see it on our cows.”

What might strike some as unbelievable may as well describe the whole story of Gemmels, Bryant and Rogue Creamery. Gemmels still can’t believe it himself, he says.

“It just continued to evolve and unfold into numerous accolades throughout the world, noted as the finest blue cheese in the world and judged as such,” he says. “I’d never thought I’d be a cheesemaker nor a dairy farmer. I just stayed true to the concept of contributing to a sense of place and touching the people in it.”

For more information, visit www.roguecreamery.com , like them on facebook, and follow them on instagram and twitter

 

Jessie Burke’s fearless journey to The Society Hotel

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Jessie Burke doesn’t consider failure to be an option.

From the time she and her husband, Jonathan Cohen, put a lien on their house to start the popular Posies Bakery & Cafe in the Kenton neighborhood of Portland back in 2009, Burke has been forging ahead with her entrepreneurial dreams, secure in the knowledge that if she ever hit a bottom, she’d find a way to bounce right back up.

It is a confidence, she notes, that comes from a pretty simple premise.

“You don’t die when you run out of money. You can talk to people. You can ask for help. You do not disappear. That makes me unafraid. I’ve come from the bottom already.”

And it was with this fearlessness that Burke and Cohen have launched their latest project, The Society Hotel in Old Town/Chinatown Portland. In 2013, they and two other partners bought the old Mariners Building on 3rd and Davis, a four-floor structure built in 1881 with a colorful history as a safe house for sailors, a Chinese dance hall, and a McDonald Center for social services.

Their dream was to transform the building, through a complete inside and outside renovation, into The Society Hotel, a unique hostel/hotel hybrid that would be the first of its kind in Portland, and play a key role in the revitalization of Chinatown, an urban area that has been slow to participate in the recent downtown economic boom.

This renovation is nearly complete, and if all goes according to plan, the Hotel will open in October.

But to really get a sense of the entrepreneurial moxie that was required to turn this dream into a reality, we need to step back a few paces—back to when Burke first launched Posies.

Making a difference in Kenton

1010391_10153010440217278_4908613065083742718_nBurke had just left an unfulfilling job in the investment banking industry (an “alternate universe”, she called it) and no longer wanted to be an employee that fulfilled someone else’s vision – she wanted to execute on a vision of her own.

Trouble was, she didn’t know exactly what that business vision would be. She liked the service industry—and had a strong desire to set up shop in an underdeveloped community—owning to her educational background with a Masters degree in public administration, with an emphasis on community development and urban planning.

Clarity beckoned, however, through her love of a certain hot beverage. As Burke recalls, “I wanted the kind of business I’d want to go to every day, and I want to drink coffee every day, so that was the start. I also thought about neighborhood. Kenton was an urban renewal area, so the Portland Development Commission (PDC) had money in the area.

“Nobody was doing anything, and this community development thing interested me. A coffee shop and bakery would be a game changer (for the Kenton neighborhood commercial district). Unlike a restaurant, people aren’t expected to leave. If people started hanging around, more people would hang around, and people would feel safer.”

Burke wrote it all up in a business plan, and above all else, it had to be family friendly. “I thought, I don’t care if it makes a ton of money; if we can survive, and we’ve made a difference, that’s the most interesting thing to me.”

She rented a space on Denver Street, moved her parents out from the east coast so her mother could do the baking, and put the lien on their house for financing, and opened Posies.   It’s been a fixture in Kenton ever since, carving out its niche as a “homestyle” café and coffee shop that has helped revitalize a neighborhood.

And now, it’s the next challenge – jumping into the ultra-competitive hotel business.

Leveraging a community to the hilt

20140129_SocietyHotel_078Back in 2013, they quickly rallied around a hybrid hostel/hotel idea pitched by their friend (and now partner) Matt Siegel, and after checking out a hotel in Chicago that had successfully embraced the concept, started looking for downtown Portland property. Burke notes “It’s a concept that needed to happen downtown –there are not a lot of options for an affordable hotel.”

It wasn’t long before they found the right place. One day, after looking at a neighboring property that was for sale, Burke was walking around Chinatown and paused in front of the Mariners Building, abandoned and empty. She took one look in the window and knew it was the place. She put in a call to their real estate broker, immediately.

Turns out the building was owned by a local Chinese fraternity, called a “Tong.” They were able to get them to accept a cash offer before they officially put it on the market. But there was a small problem, the group didn’t have any of the cash in-hand.

Undaunted, they negotiated some time before closing on the building, brought in another partner (Gabe Genauer), and then all the partners went to work to raise the needed money. Siegel, Genauer and Cohen & Burke (as one partner) each raised $250,000. Siegel asked family, Genauer took out a line of credit, and Cohen & Burke crowd-sourced their share from friends and family.

The next step was to finance the multi-million dollar renovation program, and with help from PDC and Lewis & Clark Bank, they got that money too, in Burke’s words “leveraging to the hilt.” All in all, it was a huge reach-out effort that paid great dividends.

It all involved simply casting aside any fear and asking for help, something Burke does naturally. “Asking doesn’t hurt,” she notes. “The worst thing that can happen is they say ‘no.’”

When asked why so many people are frozen in place by the fear of “no,” Burke counters “They don’t fear no, they fear the humiliation. And maybe that humiliation lasts a lifetime, because you are laughed at. They think something else is going to happen.”

Burke has gotten past all that, because she grew up very poor and worked hard to forge a life for herself, believing all along the journey that if there was a will, there would be a way. She knows she will never disappear, as long as the faith in herself remains.

A piece of Portland in Chinatown

_I0A9469The Society Hotel is a reflection of that faith, as the near-completed renovation heads towards its final touch ups before the grand opening. Its hallowed halls and guest rooms have been lovingly restored with a PDX-modern touch, promising its future guests a true taste of the town.

“We want people to experience Portland, even if they don’t leave the building”, says Burke. A community builder still, she says that they’ll be encouraging guests to interact—a typical element of hostels—and also drawn from her experience as a camp counselor as a youth.

A café in the lobby serving locally roasted coffee, Oregon wines and craft beers, Posies pastries and other treats from Portland chefs will further the same “sit down and hang with us” vibe that Burke created at Posies.

As the opening approaches, does any worry creep into Burke’s head? What about the pressure for profit?

“You can raise prices,” she notes. “But there’s going to be a breaking point. What’s the most you can pay for a bunk bed? We’re not in it for the economics. We want it to do well, but it will do well. I have no concerns about making it, and we don’t have to be zillionaires.”

But what The Society Hotel will have is a unique team behind it with a shared vision that puts community and service over profit. Burke puts it this way – “It’s hard to get a group like ours together with crazy different backgrounds who want to do a business like this. There’s no big corporation behind us, it’s just us – 4 local Portlanders with a lot of ideas who thought they could pull this off.”

It’s as she calls it, “an explosion of weird.”

All in a day’s work for this incurable Oregon optimist who has been liberated to dream big while keeping purpose squarely ahead of profit.

For more information visit www.thesocietyhotel.com, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter

Kickstarting sustainable seafood

fish shack photo lisa skaff

From the Flying Fish shack on Hawthorne, Lyf Gildersleeve passion about seafood is palpable. Maybe because it’s a passion that can be traced back to his upbringing in northern Idaho.

“My dad used to be a flight instructor for small planes. And trips from Sandpoint, Idaho, to Seattle were very common. During those trips, he would bring back fish to sell inland. That’s how Flying Fish got started in 1979, before I was even born.”

The business idea permeated the entire family, and in 2007, Lyf’s aunt opened the second Flying Fish in Durango, Colorado. That entrepreneurial gene found its way to Lyf, and in 2009 he and his wife, Natalie, opened up the third location in Park City, Utah — but two years later they sold that location and moved to Portland.

lyf holding two salmon in front of shack (2)In Portland, Lyf saw an opportunity to work with a community that resonated with him, leveraging its unique geographic location to create more of an impact.

“Portland has an amazing resource for food production. both farmed and wild. Being only 90 minutes from the ocean is awesome. It allows for sustainable seafood direct from the fishermen. There are no flights required to get you to this natural resource. Oregonians are lucky.

“In addition, the farms around portland are into raising their animals differently — not in confined feedlots. Portland residents are into living a more sustainable lifestyle. And it’s been awesome to see how we can move forward as a culture… and ultimately be a role model for the nation to follow.”

Starting at the source

Fresh and sustainable seafood is only one part of the equation Lyf is trying to address through Flying Fish. The other focuses on the fishermen, and how his simple process is looking to affect the supply chain to make it more fair to them. To that end, he took his knowledge of the industry and spent a lot of time building up the fishermen he engages.

“Since I grew up with my family owning a fish market, I knew what to look for and how to handle fish. When I moved to Oregon four-and-a-half years ago, I started with a clean slate so I had to build all my relationships one by one. I started by driving up and down the coasts, talking to fishermen on the docks and eventually building relationships which are still in place today.

“Currently, I have direct relationships with fishermen throughout Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, and a few on the east coast. I go out fishing with some of my commercial fishermen to see how they handle the fish after being caught.”

Controlling costs

With relationships in hand, the business of bringing fresh and sustainable fish to customers in Portland began. While costs are always a concern in a retail environment, Lyf worked with these initial partners on equitable pricing for everyone.

Equitable pay for fresh and sustainable seafood are parts of the equation Lyf is trying to address through Flying Fish, and by focusing on the fishermen first,  his simple process is looking to affect the supply chain in very impactful ways.

“We pay the fishermen more money for their catch, and we also try to buy their bi-catch so they can get more value for their fishing trips. In addition, we work on helping them improve their quality, because in the end if it lasts longer and is better quality, they can get more money for their product.”

But as Lyf has waded into the supply chain, the challenges began to become more apparent.

“As I work with more fishermen, the complexity gets deeper. If the large processors find out that a fisherman is selling direct to me or the consumer, then the processor won’t sell them fuel, ice, or bait. This ultimately makes it hard for the fisherman to be able to fish.”

These hurdles have not deterred Lyf, because in the end he knows his process is better for both the environment and fishermen.

“Even with the potential challenges associated with the relationship, fishermen love Flying Fish. I pay them more than the larger processors on the coasts, and they know the consumer is enjoying their amazing product, which gives the fisherman a good feeling about working with me.”

Taking it a step further

Being on the coast is far from the only requirement to meet Flying Fish standards. With a background in aquaculture and his mission, Lyf focuses only on engaging those who are doing it right.

“Part of my evaluation process is to make sure the farm is raising them properly without artificial color, hormones, antibiotics, and lower stocking densities. Sustainability, for me, is really important, and sustainability is more than just how the fish is raised and caught. There are factors like the amount of fuel used to transport fish direct to me, instead as opposed to sending them to China and back to be processed, which really happens. We are also cognizant about not supporting overfished species, and buying what’s in season — all important steps in the total sustainability cycle.”

Kicking it up a notch

But making an impact now, and a bigger impact as Flying Fish evolves, is the basis for Flying Fish’s current Kickstarter campaign. The campaign funds will allow them to expand their warehouse facilities, and also open up a new retail location on NE Sandy.

“I am pretty unconventional in that I haven’t had to get big bank loans up to date. So I’m trying to continue that methodology. I think we, the business community, need to re-wire our practices to be more geared towards people, not just corporations selling each company to each other. The crowdfunding method is community backed, which is how we want to grow. The bottom line is that we are not selling out to a big company. Period.”

Even with the new funds, however, Lyf sees additional challenges on the horizon.

“Keeping the value of a small business as we grow is difficult — both from a staffing and supplier standpoint. Our goal is to work with more small farms rather than to simply choose the larger farms who could supply us the quantities that we need. This is a key difference between the Flying Fish model and other retailers. We use the small guys only, no big co-op farms. And from a staffing perspective, it’s important to keep my friends and community working with me, not just hire ’employees’ so to speak. We are all family around Flying Fish.”

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For more information visit, www.flyingfishcompany.com, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Or get more involved and help Flying Fish reach its Kickstarter goal.

Localvesting in ice cream and craft beer

Hatch-Oregon-Launch-1

The Silicon Valley has nothing on its little sister to the north when it comes to innovative laws for connecting small businesses with the investment they need to make a big step. Deep within Oregon’s Silicon Forest, laws passed earlier this year have opened the flow of investors to varied businesses throughout the state.

Hatch Oregon, a nonprofit incubator founded by Amy Pearl, worked with state lawmakers to develop Community Public Offering (CPO) rules that promote innovative, online investing engagement, similar to crowdsource funding that has become all the rage. Hatch Oregon’s CPO is similar in that the far reach of numerous small investors can mean significant investment dollars for Oregon businesses looking to grow. However it’s unique in that investors aren’t donors; they are given a return on investment either through loan repayment or equity in the company.

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 9.53.31 AM“It’s just a more balanced approach to economic activity,” Pearl said during a gathering of the first wave of businesses seeking funding through the new program. “The CPO creates a real stakeholder economy.”

Under the law, Oregon businesses can raise as much as $250,000 through crowdfunding on the Hatch Oregon site. Each individual investor can donate a maximum of $2,500. Like the company itself, the investor has to be based in Oregon. It’s Oregonians investing in Oregon business at the purest level.

Taking the leap

Two Eugene-area businesses that represent the state’s ethos of local sustainability—Red Wagon Creamery and Agrarian Ales—are among the first round of companies seeking funds through Hatch Oregon.

Red Wagon Creamery Co-founder and Director of Sales and Marketing Stuart Phillips said the investment program beats the traditional lending model of “going hat in hand to the bank and taking its terms.”

“The difference between this and traditional lending,” Phillips said, “is you get to decide if you want to do debt or equity or combo thereof. The entrepreneur is the one driving the train. Also, the entrepreneur is the one to set the terms of the deal.”

10382071_666903713378547_1731539791957626672_oThe owners of Red Wagon Creamery, an exploding ice cream company that started with a cart and is now developing expansion plans into southern California, wanted to limit debt during the large expansion of its operation. Taking on small investors allowed that, while also boosting local interest in the company’s success.

“We will end up getting more than a hundred Oregonians becoming brand ambassadors of our ice cream,” he said of those who have bought CPO shares. To date the company has raised more than $70,000 toward the $120,000 sought.

“They have invested in us and own a little piece of the company. They have a vested interested in our success. We like that. It ties into our local food ethos,” Phillips said.

Agrarian Ales has also gotten off to a strong start in its CPO. To date the company has raised about 36 percent of the $165,000 offering that the unique farm-based brewery will use to build the region’s first micro-processing facility specific to the brewing industry.Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 7.56.47 AM

“We are ready to put down even more roots in Oregon by setting the stage to revitalize on-farm, micro-processing to make our endeavor absolutely local,” the company states in its offering document.

A strong start

Since launching at the end of January, Hatch Oregon has topped more than $200,000 in total investment. Though not the first, Oregon’s CPO has quickly become the model to follow compared to other states that have yielded more lackluster interest and investment.

“Oregon may not be the first state to pass such a law—it followed at least thirteen other states that have allowed investment crowdfunding within their borders. But it’s easily the fastest out of the gate,” wrote Bruce Melzer in an article on Locavesting.com

The secret sauce may well be the spirit of the businesses more than anything else. Those seeking funds are steeped in the cultural ethos of best practices, local investment, local vendors and healthy products.

Riding the wave of its initial success, Hatch Oregon will host a nationwide conference in September in Portland to help spur other states based on what’s working in Oregon.

Made in Oregon

Ever since the migration of Californians fleeing urban commutes and exorbitant real estate prices a generation ago, pride of place in Oregon has been a staple. Oregonians still discuss with a small measure of pride the famous quote in the 1970s from then Gov. Tom McCall who encouraged Californians to visit but, “for heaven’s sake, don’t move here to live.”

The often mythologized statement spawned a bumper-sticker and T-shirt craze stating, “Welcome to Oregon. Now go home.”

Most of the businesses to use Hatch Oregon’s funding platform are similarly old school – they are product, not tech, driven—but cutting edge with the type of products they offer. They want to scale, but do so with a focus on sustainability.

“We are not only buying our ingredients locally and supporting local farmers,” Phillips said of Red Wagon Creamery, “but now our profits are going to Oregon investors.”

Red Wagon started when the owners recognized the value of the growing interest in food carts and trucks, which Phillips says “was just becoming a thing.” It dovetailed nicely with the model of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream—in its early, privately owned years, Phillips stresses—who started selling artisan ice cream in Vermont.

“They took their traveling road show around to get Vermonters to invest. We really liked that. We liked that part of that story,” Phillips said.

The company’s ice cream cart has grown to a retail store in Eugene, two carts, a tricycle that sells popsicles and Oregon’s smallest certified dairy plant, which is just 200 square feet.

Revenues grew from just under $100,000 in 2011 to more than four times that in 2014. But the former lawyer turned ice-cream vendor says the true value of the business remains the joy of the product itself.

“There aren’t a lot of jobs you can have where you give someone the product and they immediately look happy,” said Phillips.

Rather than expand its distribution network to ever increasing distances from the Eugene operation, Red Wagon has decided to re-create the entire operation in other locales so as to both invest in the local business climate and community — and to reflect the local flavors. Since Eugene covers Oregon and Washington, the company will next expand into southern California.

“We did a lot of brainstorming on how we can take what we’re doing and essentially scale local food and have it still be local,” Phillips says. “An ice cream company back East makes local ice cream then ships it all over the country. By the time it gets out here you’ve kind of lost that local connection.”

He calls the added expense a “necessary sacrifice of profit to make the company what it needs to be, which is really a showcase of what’s local.”

In Palm Springs, California, the company has already identified its local farmers, the farmers markets it will sell from, and the products that will offer distinctive local flavors not offered in its Oregon location, like avocados and citrus.

The five-year plan is perhaps five locations along the West Coast.

“Beyond that, we just gotta see,” he says.

Central to that plan has been the public offering through Hatch Oregon. He encourages other businesses to pursue it, but to understand the work that’s involved, which includes crystallizing your company’s vision and promoting that at all times. Phillips says he talks up Hatch Oregon while scooping ice cream.

“It’s a great program as long as you come into it with your eyes open,” he says. “It’s a rare business indeed where people are lined up willing to give you money.”

Red Wagon now has 25 employees and a goal to create hundreds of jobs moving forward.“It’s daunting for us as we think back to two of us in a kitchen,” Phillips adds, which wasn’t all that long ago.

Farm-to-Pint brewing

It’s hard to get more “old school” than an Oregon farm and it’s hard to get more Oregon than craft beer making. But it’s truly trendsetting when you take those two elements and combine them on the same location, creating what may be the first completely local farm-to-pint brewing operation.

11393640_889764841102421_2562466777791118830_o“Agrarian Ales has solidified our position as one of Oregon’s most unique breweries, growing 100% of the hops, herbs, fruits and vegetables used in our beers and sodas,” states the company’s public offering. “In time, Willamette Valley farm-grown crops will comprise 100% of the raw ingredients processed at the facility…Oregon’s first, true estate brewpub (and potentially the first in the entire country).”

In addition to a working farm, Nate and Ben Tilley spent the past eight years renovating the old barn on the property that dates back to World War II into a vibrant microbrewery. The operation now includes a “table-at-the-farm” restaurant, as they refer to it, which is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and touts a menu “comprised of 98% Oregon-grown ingredients, most of that within five miles of the brewery.”Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 8.03.01 AM

“When I met the Tilley boys and came out to this farm for this first time it was kind of a dream come true,” says brewer Tobias Schock. “The driving philosophy behind the creation of this business is to keep a family farm alive and well and thriving into the next generation.”

Nate Tilley started brewing in his garage and said the growth from sales of the beer took off through word of mouth praise.

“It seemed very simple to take that to the next level,” Nate Tilley said. “My dad proposed the idea of using the barn. We hadn’t had the thought of putting a brewery out here in this rural setting.”

It’s an innovative idea that works as the farm has turned into a similar destination experience not unlike people who venture into rural areas to visit a winery. In short, it’s very Oregon, which is the point of the CPO from the outset and perhaps the most telling reason why the CPO has, at least so far, become the envy of states all across the country, including the Silicon Valley itself.

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For more information on Red Wagon Creamery, visit www.redwagoncreamery.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on twitter

For more information on Agrarian Ales, visit www.agales.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on twitter and instagram

For more information on Hatch, visit www.hatchthefuture.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on twitter

Adding a little more sunshine to The Dalles

Sunshine Millsmall

When The Dalles natives James and Molli Martin heard the city planned on destroying the Sunshine Mill if no one stepped up to buy it, they knew then and there they were the ones to save it from ruins. And save it they have.

After sitting vacant since 1978, the Sunshine Mill is sporting a beautiful new paint job and has been operation central of the Quenett and Copa Di Vino wineries since 2009. Quenett, according to the Lewis and Clark journals, is the Native American word for Steelhead.

With the help of an urban renewal loan, the Martins were able to make upgrades to the building with $500,000 and then put the other $100,000 into the painting of the building, turning the once industrial looking mill into a work of art.

Back in its heyday—when it was owned and operated by the Sunshine Biscuit Company—the mill ground wheat into the flour that went into the ever popular Cheez-It®. The mill was also the very first building to have electricity in The Dalles, powered by a Thomas Edison motor that can still be seen in the mill. What’s more, it is the only designated skyscraper in the Columbia River Gorge.374063_437166026320045_1424276845_n

With artifacts found throughout the mill, the Martins have created a unique winery with an industrial feel. Tables are made from fan guard covers and pulley wheels that are covered with the original straps of leather still wait for the command to grind flour once again.

“I think what truly makes my heart skip and what I feel when I see and work in the Sunshine Mill is the true American Dream,” said Molli. “An idea that became real. A building that sat vacant for over 30 years in our hometown that many described as an eyesore is now the most visibly stunning and thriving building in downtown Dalles. Our incredible staff has come on board as our growth continues because they believe in us and the dream. The support of our small community, seeing the expressions of the all tourists when they walk through the door recognizing and appreciating the vision and sacrifice it took to do this, truly radiates warmth and sunshine at the Mill and our Company. It’s sappy but so true. This is a project that is close to our hearts. It has been great to bring it back to life.”

Molli’s excitement about the winery, the wine, and Copa Di Vino was infectious and there is no doubt the old mill is in great hands.

It all sounds pretty cut and dried. A couple grows up in a town in Oregon, they buy the old mill that has been a part of their life forever, restore it, and turn it into a winery with a really cool painting on the outside. And they lived happily ever after.

But there really is so much more to the story.

Bullet trains to sharks

On a 20th anniversary trip to Provence, France, James and Molli sat on a bullet train sipping wine from a unique single serving container. It was their first experience with Copa Di Vino, which means “wine by the glass.”

“When James bought his first single serve glass of wine on the bullet train it triggered an epiphany,” said Molli. “I, on the other hand, thought it was just a cute glass of wine. I did not see the opportunity, he did. Our family soon made the decision together to go for it and take on a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I only would do this once in a lifetime!”

The Martins brought the idea back to the United States and immediately began the rehabilitation of the Sunshine Mill.

“Copa Di Vino is a ready to drink product for on the go people,” said Molli.

970190_10152059250487286_8583032550866330445_nCopa Di Vino was almost an overnight hit. And like most viral sensations, that came with issues. The Martins were having trouble keeping up with production. They knew they needed another bottling line, and they needed it quickly. So James made his pitch to the producers of the popular television show, Shark Tank. He was invited to be a part of the show and in 2011 he made his first appearance. James was seeking a $600,000 investment into his company and in exchange would give the investors 20% of his company. The Sharks made their offers as they realized the potential Copa Di Vino could have on the wine industry.

James knew what the Sharks were offering would change the tapestry of his business forever. He knew they were not grasping just what it was that he had, so he explained to them that the opportunity was far greater than what they were picturing. In the end he told the investors that he would not be making a deal with them and he would not be taking an investment from them.

Shark Kevin O’Leary told him, “This was your moment,” as if James had just made the most horrible business decision in the history of business decisions.

”Before James went on we discussed to staying true to ourselves,” said Molli. “He drank some Copa before the taping and had the courage to say no! True story!”

Before James was a guest on Shark Tank, sales were around $500,000 and the product was sold in five states. The company now generates $13 million in annual revenue and is sold in 48 states and 18 countries. A pretty good turn of events for a couple of small town Oregonians that had to sell the family’s cherry orchard in order to have enough money to invest in a winery that they just knew in their hearts would be a great life-changing endeavor.

Ah, success! What better way to show the Sharks that the decision to not take their investment offer was not a mistakeScreen Shot 2015-06-30 at 10.55.47 AM

James was invited back to the Shark Tank in 2014. During the trip, he made a phone call to Samuel Adam’s creator Jim Cook who told him, “Passion will take you a long way.” Once again, when James realized the Sharks did not share or understand his vision, he told them he would not be taking their offer. This gained him the reputation of being the most hated entrepreneur in Shark Tank’s history.

“The only people who created that label are the Sharks themselves because of the success we are having,” said Molli. “The majority of the people who love Copa and have seen the show support us turning them down. Kevin O’Leary himself told James it had worldwide potential so why should he have given up so much and why did he offer so little? And by saying “No” the ratings for Shark Tank shot up. James was the first to turn down an offer and so they asked him to come back a second time and that show was even more successful. Shark Tank should thank James for its success maybe?”

Eventually, a private investor became involved which gave the Martins the means to go from one bottling line to two.11050655_791479204222057_4031453421029395469_n

The Sunshine Mill Winery now produces 7 million glasses of Copa Di Vino and 2,200 cases of Quenett wine yearly. Copa Di Vino is sold at Walmart and is in venues such as Madison Square Gardens, Radio City Music Hall and many NFL locations. The Martins have created 105 jobs and the mill has been the production site and tasting room for both Quenett and Copa Di Vino since 2009.

Plans for the future for the Sunshine Mill include a 49 room boutique hotel inside the huge concrete silos.

James and Molli’s story is inspirational. To turn down a $600,000 investment simply because you think your business has even more potential is a pretty daring thing to do. And it would seem that the Martins have absolutely no regrets on the business decisions they have made since acquiring the old run down mill on the edge of their hometown, turning it into a place where weddings, reunions and parties are a normal occurrence and friendships are made over a Copa Di Vino.

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For more information, visit www.sunshinemill.com, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter  .