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Great Earth: Popular local eatery

Locals, visitors flock to cafe, market


by: HOLLY M. GILL - The Boyds bring a lot of energy, and smiles, to Great Earth.Attention to detail — from finding the perfect ingredients for a loaf of bread to the best local products for their shelves — has made Great Earth Natural Foods and Deli the place to be on a weekday afternoon.

Locals know what travelers are learning: that it’s a great place for coffee, natural foods and vitamins, as well as nutritious, homecooked meals — whether it’s a breakfast frittata, turkey panini, Greek salad, or vegetable lasagne.

Whatever the choice, visitors have been giving the deli and health food store a thumbs up on various online review sites.

“People are saying it’s a nice little oasis in Central Oregon, or that it’s a great place to stop and get good food on your travels,” said Troy Boyd, who owns and operates the store with her husband Garry.

What makes the place so popular? “I think it’s the atmosphere,” said Troy, who tries to ensure that the business offers a friendly, laid-back environment for visitors. “We always have music going; it’s relaxing. Everybody here is really happy and upbeat. We try to make it fun.”

Garry Boyd believes that their well-trained staff of eight to 10 part-time employees helps make it a pleasant place to be. “I’m a talker; I like seeing people and talking to them, and most of my staff is the same way,” he said.

The Boyds, who have lived in Culver since 1991, opened the store and deli in 1996, across from the Madras Post Office on Sixth Street. The small shop was immediately busy.

“The first day, I remember seeing a line down the sidewalk,” said Troy, who admitted being a little “freaked out” as she wondered if she’d be able to handle the surge of customers.

The business, which Garry called “Troy’s dream — her vision,” grew steadily at that location, with Troy developing a following for her catering option. But because it was small, she was constantly on the lookout for a larger location.

For years, she’d been eyeing the current site at Fourth and D streets, and had even attempted to rent it when a market at that location closed. “I tried to rent it, but the rent went from $750 to $1,500,” she recalled.

A year later, the Boyds tried to purchase the building, but the owner refused the offer, “even though it was within $5,000” of the asking price, Troy said. “In a way, I’m glad, because the building had a lot of problems I wasn’t prepared for.”

In the meantime, Troy was in touch with Harold Siegenhagen, of Madras, who ultimately ended up purchasing the current location. “I told him, ’If you buy this building, I will rent it from you,’” she said.

New downtown location

Harold and Nancy Siegenhagen purchased the building and obtained a $65,000 low-interest loan and $65,000 grant from the Madras Redevelopment Commission to fix up the exterior. The Siegenhagens hired Goodson Construction to gut and rebuild the interior, with input from the Boyds.

The Boyds opened in the new location on Jan. 3, 2006, after nearly a decade in the previous location. “This corner is perfect, because travelers come in,” said Troy, noting that they stop at the light and see the business. “You’re right here in town. It creates a nice walking atmosphere; we’re having a lot more of that happening now.”

A year after they opened on Fourth and D streets, Garry Boyd made the tough decision to quit his job as a salesman for a Redmond irrigation and landscape supplier, and go to work with his wife. Although he had enjoyed his career with H.D. Fowler, which allowed him to spend a great deal of time outdoors, he realized that Troy needed his help.

“I was watching my poor wife work herself to death,” he said, recalling that Troy was a little overwhelmed by “the difference in logistics, employees, inventory, power, water, sewer, as well as additional sales” at the new location.

While Garry had never done much of their family’s baking or cooking, he soon involved himself in that aspect of the business, and learned to bake bread, and became what he calls “the chief dishwasher.”

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Garry Boyd pulls freshly baked loaves of potato dill bread from the oven.Every day, the Boyds and two part-time employees arrive at 6:30 a.m. to begin baking about 50 loaves of bread, as well as other treats, such as scones and cookies. “When we get behind, we can pump out 80 loaves,” said Garry.

In the summertime, for example, “We can have a bunch of campers coming through, and everyone wants their own loaf of bread,” he said.

The bread starts coming out of the large ovens around 11 a.m. each day, but typically doesn’t get sold until the next day. “The bread I make today goes on the retail rack tomorrow,” said Garry, noting that the bread must fully cool before it can be cut. The following day, the bread is used for their sandwiches.

All of Great Earth’s breads begin with a sourdough starter. “We are the only natural fermentation bakery in Central Oregon,” he said. “At night, before they go home, they make a wheat sponge, which gives you more flavor.”

In the morning, the “sponge” is separated out to be used to start the loaves of bread, which are typically made with unbleached or white whole wheat flour, honey and molasses for sweetening, and no preservatives.

Most of the 27 different breads recipes they use do not contain refined sugar. The braided challah bread — made with sugar and eggs, but without molasses — is a popular exception.

“The honey is an antibacterial,” said Troy. “It sweetens the bread, but it also retards mold, and gives you some extra nutrients.”

Great Earth’s most popular bread is the harvest seed bread, which has flax, sesame, sunflower and poppy seeds, as well as millet, and is used on some of their bestselling sandwiches — the Dakota and the Rancher. The Dakota features turkey breast and havarti herb cheese, while the Rancher offers roast beef, avocado, red onion and provolone cheese.

Specialty breads, such as their gluten-free bread, are increasing in demand. “We actually have people that come from Washington to get our gluten-free bread,” said Troy, noting that one woman called ahead to ask for 10 loaves. “She was telling Garry that it’s the best she ever had and doesn’t want to run out of it.”

Buying ’close to home’

At first, they used only organic flour, but economics forced them to look at other flour. “We probably buy 500 pounds of flour every week,” said Garry, who purchases flour milled in Pendleton. “We try to stay as close to home as we can.”

The Boyds apply that concept to nearly everything on their menu — from the meat purchased at Oregon Beef to the organic coffee from Lone Pine Coffee and Strictly Organic, both of Bend.

“We buy a little more expensive meat than most cafés,” said Garry. “You can tell the difference.”

While the Boyds use high-quality ingredients, which tend to be more expensive, they also try to make sure customers get a great value for their money. “We’re extremely competitive with our pricing,” he said. “We haven’t had a price increase in three years.”

Menu continues to grow

Great Earth’s deli started out as primarily a sandwich shop, and lunchtime remains their busiest time of day. But they’ve continued to add to their menu. “We’ve developed a breakfast menu and we’ve developed a dinner menu — either eat in or take out,” said Garry.

For breakfast, he added, “I think we have some great items: fresh frittatas, parfaits, fresh sausage crepes, breakfast burritos, breakfast panini.”

On the dinner menu, in addition to the sandwiches and soup of the day, there are casseroles, lasagne, grilled panini, salad, desserts, and specials, as well as wine and beer.

“Every day is something different,” said Garry.

“I’m always looking for new recipes,” said Troy, who tries to keep up on food trends through the magazine “Specialty Food.” The magazine recently mentioned Ancient Heritage Dairy, of Madras, which produces sheep cheese. “We carry three of those.”

Throughout their 30-year marriage, Troy has always been interested in trying out new foods. “He likes good ol’ boy comfort foods, but he’s open to trying things,” she said.

“One of the reasons I opened my other store was he doesn’t like all the foods I like,” said Troy. “(At the store) I had a creative outlet and could cook what I wanted.”

As with other businesses across the country, Great Earth was impacted when the economy turned sour five years ago. Garry responded by figuring out exactly where their money was going, and how he could improve the bottomline.

“My background is engineering, so I like to measure everything,” said Garry Boyd. “If you’re not measuring everything, you don’t know what your costs are.”

“Before 2008, this little business was growing at 18-20 percent every year — it was coming in so fast,” he said. “In August 2008, business stopped fast; we were losing $30,000 a month. Since then, we’ve learned a valuable lesson: You need to be paying attention to the money every day.”

The Boyds maintain an inventory of $30,000-$45,000 in their natural foods store, according to Garry. To better serve their customers, they also offer a food buyer’s club, which allows customers to place orders every other week at a 15-17 percent discount from retail prices.

Although the option has been around for a few years, he said, “The buyers’ club is becoming more popular. We’re getting more and more orders.”

Customers can peruse the United Natural Foods catalog of over 75,000 items and download the order form on Great Earth’s Web page at greatearth.biz, and then print out and drop the order off at the store. Orders must be a minimum of $50.

Great Earth’s catering is another popular service described on their website. They offer pastry platters, fruit, vegetable, meat and cheese trays, as well as full breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

“We have done catering of up to 200 sandwiches for Natural Resources in Warm Springs,” said Troy. “It’s all prepared here, and then I deliver it and set it up.”

Special events on tap

Particularly popular with local residents are the special events at Great Earth, such as the History Pub in March, wine and beer tasting events, and performances by musicians or bands.

On April 20, Great Earth hosted Community Read author William L. Sullivan, the author of “Listening for Coyote,” and “Cabin Fever.”

“We do it annually,” said Troy, who puts together snacks for the event to complement the Community Read author’s selections.

On Thursday, April 25, Music by Ethos will accompany “happy hour” at 4 p.m. at Great Earth.

The events are open to the public, whether local or just passing through — as are many of their customers.

With his propensity for measuring things, Garry has determined that an astounding 60 percent of their daily traffic in the store is from travelers. In the summertime, that rises to about 70 percent.

“We have a great reputation online,” he said. “We have people traveling through that come in for the first time because someone told them to stop here.”

Even though Great Earth is popular with out-of-towners, locals still make up 40 percent of their business. “Without local support, we would not have made it,” said Garry. “We have some regulars that come in everyday.”

Building owners Harold and Nancy Siegenhagen — who were fans of the Boyds’ “fresh and flavorful” food even before they became their landlords — are two of the regulars.

“It’s one of my favorite places in town to eat,” said Nancy.

Harold enjoys the food and visits at least two or three times a week. “We go there to eat; there’s always a lot of local people we see there,” he said.

Located at 46 S.W. D St., Great Earth is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (6 p.m. in wintertime), Monday through Friday, and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The business can be reached by phone at 541-475-1500 or 541-475-1813, on the Internet at www.greatearth.biz, or on Facebook at Great Earth Natural Foods.



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