Just a decade ago, the 1927-era Bandon Cheese & Produce Factory was shuttered by its owner of three years, the Tillamook Cooperative Creamery, with the factory's tourist-friendly cheese shop soon to follow.
Left in its place was a vacant lot: a downtown scar to locals and a question mark to travelers who'd for years stopped in Bandon to sample and buy the renowned handmade cheeses that helped put the coastal town on the map.
People wouldn't forget, though. Several tried and failed to devise a scheme to purchase the property and relaunch a cheese-making facility. But it took a modern, adaptive business strategy to make a go of it in the new economic landscape. And now the Face Rock Creamery is up and running, thick with happy visitors and poised to hire another 10 folks to join its staff of 15.
The Oregonian's Lori Tobias last week noted generations' worth of emotional attachment to the old cheese factory. She quoted Daniel Graham, Face Rock's vice president, as saying: "We have thousands of people come through. It's amazing how many people have been connected to the original factory. ... People will come in and start crying when they talk about it."
But nostalgia never paid the bills. And it took Graham's partner, a young Greg Drobot, who'd recently finished his master's of business administration at the University of San Diego, to find $2 million to make it go. And Drobot, Face Rock's president, quickly found the economy's old rules no longer applied: Large lenders, at first encouraging, ultimately gave him a runaround reserved for the inexperienced.
So Drobot patched together smaller loans aimed at small businesses from the Oregon Business Development Fund; the Port of Bandon; a consortium representing Coos, Curry and Douglas counties; and Craft3, a nonprofit dedicated to Pacific Northwest businesses. He didn't stop there, either.
Drobot and Graham appealed to the city of Bandon, hungry for its own celebrated cheese, to lease the property the city had purchased from Tillamook. And they secured a deal in which Face Rock would pay a mere $40 a month in rent for the next 20 years.
You could call that last part a giveaway. We won't. It's smart business in a town that is taking back what it always owned: only-in-Oregon production of handcrafted, distinctive cheeses made from local milk.
It's worth noting that Drobot and Graham were savvy enough to woo back to Bandon a favored son in Brad Sinko, who'd gone to Seattle to help launch Beecher's Handmade Cheeses and who in 2007 won the American Cheese Society's honor for best cheddar in the United States. Sinko, now in lockstep with Drobot and Graham as head cheese-maker and production manager, completes a Bandon homecoming that is as much about purpose-driven business dreams as it is about fine cheese.