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Forest Grove sees growth in burgeoning food and beverage scene
BY JON SHADEL
A first-time visitor to Forest Grove might be surprised to find a saké brewery near the center of town. Yet this small city of 21,000 residents, located just 25 miles west of Portland, is earning a reputation as a destination for diverse food and beverage businesses. One example is SakéOne, Oregon’s only saké facility and one of only six facilities in the U.S. producing this traditionally-Japanese fermented rice wine.
Steve Vuylsteke, President of SakéOne and a life-long resident of Washington County, cites Forest Grove’s prominent role in Oregon’s wine industry as historical precedent for the city’s burgeoning craft food and beverage scene. “It all gets back to this pioneering spirit — that we’re going to do something different and make something better,” he says.
Vuylsteke also uses the term “premiumization,” a buzzword in the alcoholic beverage industry, to describe Forest Grove’s affinity for specialty restaurants, wine bars and other food and drink purveyors. For example, the city has recently attracted two craft distilleries, a cider brewery, and a gourmet coffee roaster. “I don’t think you’ll find many regions around the country with this diversity of high quality products,” he says. “We offer a very authentic experience.”
That integrity attracts a growing number of tourists, who seek farm-to-table dining experiences like those found at 1910 Main, a bistro serving regional cuisine with locally sourced products. Kathy Compton, chef and owner, describes the menu as “classic comfort food with a twist,” serving simple entrees like braised lamb potpie and buttermilk fried chicken, each paired with local wines and regional craft beers.
Compton, a veteran of the local food scene, has operated several businesses in the city’s scenic downtown. She cites Forest Grove’s prime location as one of the main reasons the craft food and beverage industry has flourished in recent years. “We’re right in the middle of agriculture, with suppliers within a couple of miles,” she says, noting that a growing interest in quality dining experiences has attracted tourists as well businesses seeking to capitalize on this trend. “We’re finally being discovered.”
Mark Frandsen, former CEO and owner of New Season Foods, a food manufacturer, and owner of Grove Properties, industrial facilities for food manufacturing and cold storage, strikes a similar chord, saying, “Access to locally grown products is essential, and it is the reason a lot of business want to be here.”
The city has recently attracted business like Chaucer Foods, an international food processing plant opening its first U.S. facility in Forest Grove, bringing 71 new jobs into the community. Summit Foods, a Cornelius-based fruit processor, is also opening new facilities for producing craft apple chips.
The low cost of doing business and existing infrastructure for food processing—the city has a contract packer, farm stores, and three cold storage facilities—also makes Forest Grove stand out among other cities in the state, Frandsen says, mentioning facilities like Henningsen Cold Storage who provide for the warehousing and distribution needs of food and beverage businesses. “We’re ideally situated for an entrepreneur who wishes to operate with low costs while being in close proximity to farms,” he adds.
Jeff King, Economic Development Manager for the City of Forest Grove, agrees. “It’s also about logistics,” he says. King enthusiastically emphasizes the city’s unique geographical position: Forest Grove, the northern gateway to wine country with 12 wineries nearby, is close to local food suppliers while at the same time has access to capital and other resources in the Portland metro region.
King cites a skilled labor market —95,000 trained workers are located within a 10-mile radius— as a key reason an entrepreneur might select Forest Grove as a place to start up a business. SakéOne, for example, has had no trouble filling a variety of technical positions as its operations grow, Vuylsteke says.
As saké becomes an increasingly popular beverage across the U.S., Vuylsteke regularly flies from state to state, advocating for premium varieties at conferences and events. This gives him a unique perspective on Forest Grove’s position in a competitive national market. “I’ve traveled all around the country supporting what we do,” he says, “and I can’t think of a better place to work.”
“There’s just something about the North Willamette Valley for those seeking to be creative with food and beverage,” Vuylsteke adds, referencing the surprising diversity in the local scene. “Again, it’s this pioneering spirit. That’s what you see in Forest Grove.”
Other Notable Food and Drink Purveyors
Bull Run Hard Cidery
Urban Decanter Wine Bar
Fraga Farmstead Goat Cheese
To the Roots Coffee Roaster
1910 Main Small Plates Tapas
A King’s Head British Pub & Eatery
Forest Grove Farmers Market
McMenamins Grand Lodge
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34 spots for food, 17 places to sip, and 7 sites to choose a brew beckon visitors.