Local Food Month-let’s celebrate Humboldt’s bounty, and by the way, where’s the local yogurt?

 It’s that time again: Local Food Month, cleverly timed to coincide with harvest season. Whenever I travel outside the local area I am reminded that we are so lucky to have access to food that hasn’t been shipped from a thousand miles away. You could spend an hour rummaging through a Publix or a Winn-Dixie in Florida and not find any local food at all.  Here’s a link to the event listings and don’t forget to check out the “Red Carpet  Premiere” Saturday night at the Eureka Theater which will feature food, films and fun. The Humboldt Made site has all the details and a link for ordering tickets in advance.

       At the same time I’m relishing the local cheeses, jams etc I can’t help wondering why there’s no local  source for a food I eat everyday, and a lot of you do too.  I’m talking about YOGURT. It’s easy to make (we used to make it in our dorm room at Davis) and when In later years I had occasion to visit the Continental Culture Company in Altadena,  I found that their operation wasn’t much more complicated. They had one building that was hot and humid, where the culturing took place, and another that was refrigerated for storage purposes. Later they became a huge company and I used to see their products all over Southern California, in health food stores. Now, they’re out of business, mourned by their fans a having been the only lactose-free yogurt available.  I didn’t know there was such a thing.

       I used to buy the 39c Lucerne yogurt, oblivious to its mushy texture and lack of flavor but then, like a lot of you, I discovered Chobani and got hooked on its heft and chalkiness. Chobani retails locally at Winco for about a buck and at Murphy’s for $1.50 or so.  So my 39c investment has become at least a dollar. Chobani was in the news this morning for contamination problems in its Idaho plant. Their growth has been spectacular. The Economist has a very interesting account in its August 31st issue of how Hamdi Ulukaya, a son of Kurdish immigrants in Turkey,  bought an 85-year-old yogurt factory in upstate New York in 2005. This year he will sell more than $1B , a healthy chunk of America’s $6.3B market. The company is changing; Mr Ulukaya is hiring a COO and a new ad agency.

       So what’s the difference between “Greek” yogurt and any other? Greek yogurt is strained to remove the whey, the watery liquid that separates out during the process, leaving more protein than in the supermarket stuff, in fact about twice as much. No, I don’t own stock in the company.  Mr. Ulukaya retains sole ownership.

       So what is stopping some Redwood Coast entrepreneur from entering this market?  We have the dairy infrastructure, the marketing image of green fields and free-roaming herds and a population that would probably support a local yogurt if one were available. It seems like a natural. You could have “Redwood Raspberry” or “Humboldt Honeycomb”. If someone finds a way to make our major ag product palatable to the taste buds, you could get into “Weedwacker” or “Green Giant” although I guess that’s copyrighted . Anyway, the possibilities are endless. And you don’t even have to pay me a consultant’s fee. Just gimme some good yogurt.

UPDATE: The lime Chobani I ate earlier today was apparently from the batch (06-12, exp Oct 7) that  some people, mostly  kids, have become sick from and which Chobani is replacing with coupons in what is called a “voluntary recall”. I feel absolutely fine. Another opening for LOCAL yogurt!   


Henderson Center- Shopping the Way It’s Meant To Be

       What were you doing in 1946? I can’t remember but then I have the excuse that I wasn’t born yet. A group of businesspeople were busy in 1946 forming the Henderson Center Merchants’ Association (HCMA) and friendly Henderson Center has been an integral part of Eureka’s economy ever since.

       I may as well confess at the outset that Henderson Center is my favorite neighborhood in Eureka. When I moved back here in 1993 I spent considerable time looking for a house to buy near Henderson Center but there was absolutely nothing available. Even now,  when I drive through I see the ghosts of businesses past.  Remember McGaraghan’s? Grace’s Pizza? The Purity store? Steve’s Coney Island when Steve was still there and it was located down by Finnegan & Nason, now the Tailwagger’s Thrift shop? Remember Nygard & Green?  I had been a bit worried when Robert’s closed and it seemed that the blight of empty storefronts that has plagued downtown since the economy  went south was going to be echoed in the Center. I am happy to report that’s not true.

        Henderson Center is thriving. It is the most user-friendly and walkable district in town, and with its unlimited parking – no racing to move your car after two hours- is evolving into the kind of small-town shopping experience that puts the malls of the world to shame.

       Let’s define our terms. Henderson Center as defined by the HCMA is everything between D Street and G Street, and from Dollison to Hodgson.  Although the HCMA has 60 members at present, there are a total of 120 businesses in the area, many of which don’t fall into the “merchant” category. There are banks and brokers, insurance agencies, realtors, medical offices, ad agencies etc etc. It has been a bit of a challenge to build membership among the non- “merchants” even though membership dues are only $100 annually.

       The HCMA has no paid staff and therefore is a volunteer organization with each member also having at least one business to run so most of their expenditures are for promotion of their sponsored events such as the summer Farmer’s Market (Thursdays from 10am to 1pm), the Hallowe’en Trick or Treat , and the Holiday Open House. They have learned to do more with less but look forward to increasing membership so that they can advertise more.  The current officers  are: President: Jack Rieke of Shafer’s, Vice-President:  Linda Jo Alexander of Promises Bridal and Formal Wear, Secretary: Bev Sousa of Bev’s Real Kids, and Treasurer: Sue Johnson of The Shady Lady, window coverings.

       The lack of a paid staff has precluded the HCMA from negotiating with landlords as a group but the upcoming changes in the neighborhood are exciting. Look for the old Tailwaggers site to become a pizza restaurant.  The former  Safeway pharmacy is vacant for now, but is an excellent location that will surely be snapped up. Cornerstone Computers is developing a huge following for its excellent customer service. And the old Robert’s building is being prepped as a grocery and deli, and the liquor license app is already posted in the window. Good things are coming to this neighborhood of mostly independent stores, and I’m looking forward to having a nice glass of wine while the leisurely traffic on F Street cruises by.

Hope they have outdoor tables.




Happy Small Business Week -Oysters, Enterprise Zones, ROI’s for College and Who’s Reading Newspapers?

Our friends at Google remind us today that this is Small Business Week. They’re not sending us flowers or candy or a discount on a coveted service but it’s the thought that counts, I guess.  Makes you feel kind of like a father on Father’s Day. Anyway, cheers.

THE OYSTER FESTIVAL – I haven’t heard yet whether the proceeds matched those of previous years but I can tell you it was the most enjoyable OF I’ve ever attended. There were a couple of hopefuls walking around trying to pick up a buck by holding places in line for the eager oyster-eaters. Only problem with their business model -there were no lines!!!  The longest line I saw had four people waiting.   As usual I managed to miss out on the prize-winning entries but the cooked oyster that blew me away was a crunchy fried number from Smokin’ Moses. A relaxed and very enjoyable outing.

ENTERPRISE ZONES GOING AWAY-  I know that certain local businesses have taken advantage of the Enterprise Zone program although when I worked at State Rehab it seemed we never got it quite right. The employer was always located just beyond the zone limits, but it seemed like a good program.  Apparently in celebration of Small Business Week, we’ll be saying  goodbye to all that.  Capitol Basement’s The Roundup reports quoting the LA Times’  Marc Lifsher: “At issue are enterprise zones, which were established to boost employment in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods and rural areas. California is home to 40 of these special districts, in which about 35,000 companies have qualified for tax credits. Last year they reaped an estimated $700 million in credits — a figure that state tax officials project will grow to $1 billion by 2016.” “Giants FedEx Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have availed themselves of these incentives, which are worth as much as $37,400 for each hire. So have small businesses, including two Sacramento strip clubs named Gold Club Inc. and Deja Vu Showgirls.”

“But the identities of most beneficiaries are a mystery. Because of the confidential nature of state tax laws, it’s nearly impossible to find out which companies got credits, how much they were worth and how the companies qualified for them.”

Still, it seems like a good idea and hopefully, there will be a replacement soon.

WHAT’S THE ROI ON COLLEGE?  For all those freshly minted graduates we’ve been celebrating this week, the stats on bankrate.com offer grounds for hope and despair. The salaries of course are completely out of sync with what is paid locally but it’s still intriguing to note that according to PR Daily, it takes an average of nearly 32 years for a journalism student to repay his or her loans, while advertising/marketing/promotions boasts the lowest number of years it takes to repay loans at 5.83. Marriage and Family Therapists are especially disadvantaged, according to the table at bankrate.com.  Maybe don’t read it while your new grad is around.  Let them enjoy themselves for a few days.

WHO”S READING NEWSPAPERS? A research company called Scarborough (apparently no connection to Joe) reported the highest daily readership of papers currently takes place in Pittsburgh with second place a tie between Albany NY and Hartford/New Haven CT, fourth Cleveland and fifth a four-way tie  between  Buffalo, Honolulu, NYC and Toledo. The lowest readership? Atlanta, followed by Houston and San Antonio, tied, then Las Vegas and our own Bakersfield.  I wasn’t even sure they had a newspaper in Bakersfield. It’s comforting to know there are still other primitives like me who enjoy opening a paper in the morning. How long will we have this option?

So Happy Small Business Week and don’t forget to bring the family to the Redwood Acres Fair, “The Best of Humboldt” on Thursday through Sunday.  Complete schedule of events at  redwoodacres.com   See you there!



The Week in Redwood Coast Business- renaming the airport, charging for the Oyster Festival, getting no love from our homies and train vs turkey

Renaming the Airport- The sorry spectacle of a town renaming its airport to attract visitors is a plot worthy of a comedy, one of those good British comedies with Peter Sellers .  The good news is that it will take the proposed name change at least a couple of years to be approved so perhaps someone or thing will come along in the meantime to save us from ourselves.  “California Redwood Coast – Humboldt County Airport” is too long, was obviously , like a giraffe, put together by a committee trying to please everyone, and leaves unanswered the question : what about those obnoxious folks in Mendocino who think THEY have a Redwood Coast? The Mendocino -Sonoma Chamber calls  itself “The Redwood Coast Chamber”. There are so many other “Redwood Coast” businesses down there I almost decided to call my blog something else.

What if instead of perpetual confusion, the airport promoted clarity? Why not spend the money on educating folks that the Eureka-Arcata Airport is in Humboldt County, home of the Redwoods? I called the always-affable Tony Smithers of the Visitors and Convention Bureau and asked for his estimate of the number of tourists we host yearly.  He guesses he number is around 1.5 million all but one or two percent of whom arrive here by means other than air travel.  So if changing the airport’s name would double the traffic there (it wouldn’t- I’m just stretching for an example) the number of air-arriving visitors would go from 30,000 to 60,000.  Would these folks be visitors who wouldn’t come here otherwise? That seems to be the hope. Frankly I think the drive UP here is just as much of a draw as the attractions in Humboldt area,  but only time will tell.

By the way, our friends in Redding just concluded an unsuccessful campaign to attract another carrier and are heading back to the drawing board.  In a climate where airlines are squeezing the passengers for every dime and shutting down as many routes as the government will let them,  attracting more service to a marginal market like Redding or ACV will be quite a trick.  

O Oysters, Come and Walk with Us- The Oyster Festival is making a  brave and necessary change by  instituting a $10 admission charge. I was a volunteer, selling drink bracelets a couple of years ago, and it was obvious something had to change. The drink bracelets didn’t stay with the purchasers for long and the frenzy for beer would cause an onlooker to think they were at a beer festival, not an oyster festival.  I’m looking forward to this weekend, fence and all.  Kevin Hoover’s thoughtful editorial in the Eye lays it all out .

General Patton- Mike Patton,  surely the most influential musician ever to emerge from the Redwood Coast, (sorry, Sara Barielles), was featured in the Critic’s Notebook of the June 3 issue of the New Yorker, as an “indefatigable vocalist and visionary” on the occasion of the Manhattan concert introducing the fourth album by his current band, the “frenetic and experimental post-rock” Tomahawk. “General Patton” , as they dubbed him, the lead singer of Faith No More and founder of Mr. Bungle, among other bands,  is a true original but I haven’t heard of him playing up here, ever. Twenty years ago, when I was getting ready to move back here, Details magazine quoted him as saying, of Eureka,  “It’s a void. There’s absolutely nothing to do there. I mean nothing.”  I wonder if he has been back here since?  He won’t be around this summer, that’s for sure. He’s touring Europe with Tomahawk, opening for Nine Inch Nails.  The Film Commission has been trying to get the attention of Jeff Bridges (whose grandparents ran the Vance Hotel) for years but hasn’t been able to lure him up here. I believe he actually grew up in Petaluma. If the Redwood Coast is to market itself as being a cradle of creativity we need these folks. Incidentally,  After Earth is getting universally terrible reviews, which is a shame, but kudos to Cassandra Hessletine and crew for luring that production here.

Terror on the train- Finally,  as if the problems with starting up any kind of rail service to the Redwood Coast weren’t fraught with perils enough, the current issue of the RAILPAC newsletter reports that at 11am on June 1 in West Mansfield MA, a wild turkey crashed through the window of an Amtrak train, stopping service on all tracks. “The engineer was covered with  glass…and the engine compartment was full of the remains of the turkey, making it unusable”. You can’t make this stuff up.  Thank God no one took pictures. 

Stay hungry. Stay creative. Now, more than ever? 

Is Calhoun’s the best barbecue sauce ever?

Early days

 I am making no attempt whatsoever to be objective.  From the moment I discovered Calhoun’s (probably at Murphy’s) I have never purchased another brand. I’ve tried barbeque sauces all over the Carolinas and Florida, and in St. Louis, and even the mustard sauce peculiar to South Carolina, which most Californians can’t stand.

But my go-to sauce, which I always keep on hand, is Calhoun’s Original Southside Bar-B-Cue Sauce. It’s light and slightly spicy, not sticky-sweet like the Memphis style.  As Mike Ross, its creator, explains it, there is no real “Chicago Style” sauce; he had to invent it himself.

Talking to Mike Ross is a treat, especially if you love Chicago as I do. Mike grew up in what is now known as the “Historic Pullman District”. Historic it is, and you can sign up for tours which will guide you through the first model, planned industrial community in the United States, built by George Pullman as a place to produce the famous Pullman sleeping car. It was a company town, sort of like Scotia on steroids, and the scene of a violent strike in 1894.  Mike grew up grilling for family get-togethers (oh, those Chicago summer evenings!) and his sauce recipe had its beginnings there. The name “Calhoun’s” , incidentally, derives from the neighborhood’s Calhoun Street. 

Mike  worked as a correctional officer for 12 years before deciding that Chicago had become too small and a change was in order. He came to Arcata to visit his grandparents who had moved there earlier. Once he hit the tarmac and saw the green hills around, he never looked back.

Mike’s bottling machine

The business is clearly poised for expansion. Mike is travelling to Georgia to pick up a catering-size grill and smoker and looks forward to opening his own place.  Meanwhile, a distribution deal is pending with a partner in, of all places, Montreal, which has a long barbecue tradition of its own, especially with chicken.  He currently has seventeen outlets including Murphy’s Markets and Eureka Natural Foods but if the Canadian connection works out, watch for explosive growth. With all-natural ingredients, Calhoun’s may become the Redwood Coast’s next big export. Visit their website here. 

Have you tried Calhoun’s?  How do you think it stacks up next to Smokin’ Moses or whatever they use at Porter Street? Have you worked with the SBDC or AEDC? Let us hear from you!