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A wood-fired pizza business wins SHEDCO business plan competition, taking home $20K loan and $5K grant

PMG PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Jaime Mason and Erin McCown, center, holding giant checks, celebrate with friends and supporters after winning the SHEDCO business plan competition Wednesday, April 17. The duo plan to open a wood-fired pizza food truck in St. Helens using the grand prize money to pay for start-up costs.For Jaime Mason and Erin McCown, pizza is sacred.

That's why the pair incorporated the word "hallow" — which is defined as being revered or sacred — into the name of their new business venture, Hallow's Pizza.

Mason and McCown are the winners of the second St. Helens Economic Development Corporation Business Plan Competition, as announced Wednesday night, April 17, and are now planning to open a wood-fired pizza food truck venture in St. Helens later this year.

"I've loved pizza as long as I can remember. If anything's sacred in my life, it's pizza," Mason said.

Mason and McCown took home the grand prize of the competition — a $20,000, no-interest loan provided by several local credit unions, including Wauna and InRoads, along with a $5,000 grant from the Columbia River People's Utility District.

The idea behind the SHEDCO competition is to allow would-be entrepreneurs in the city an opportunity to create business plans and see how viable their businesses would be in the community.

SHEDCO hosted its first ever business plan competition in 2015, and when the winner of the first competition, Vault Elite gymnasium, finished paying off its business loan, SHEDCO was able set up a second round.

Competitors had to attend a series of business plan writing workshops hosted by SHEDCO to enter. While some entered just to learn more about the process, others were able to identify a market in the community where their business could thrive.

For Mason, his goal was to develop a solid business plan to pursue his own passion — pizza-making. His parents owned a pizza shop as a kid and, after working as a regional manager for a food delivery service, he decided now was the prime time to pursue his dream.

"It's just absolutely enormous. I never expected to win. I just wanted to have a really good business plan," Mason said Wednesday night, while he and McCown still held two large ceremonial checks that were presented to them.

PMG PHOTO: NICOLE THILL PACHECO - Jaime Mason and Erin McCownMcCown, who Mason described as his high school sweetheart and is a professional photographer, decided to join him on the venture.

"I think Jaime just had total, unbridled enthusiasm, and I don't know that that set us apart, but I do think that was the engine that drove us through this whole process," McCown said.

While only one business plan can win the grand prize, many of the business hopefuls go on to create or expand their goals and set up shop in St. Helens.

This year, four businesses were vying for the grand prize — Hallow Pizza; Ascending Optics, a drone service business offering assistance with search and rescue, agriculture and construction needs; Running Dogs Brewery, a brewery and restaurant business with plans to expand; and WildFlower Play Collective, a prospective membership-based indoor play and education space for families.

Business representatives pitched their plans to a panel of judges on Wednesday night in a style similar to the popular TV series, "Shark Tank." Supporters in the audience included local residents, as well as family members and friends from outside the city.

For Hallow's Pizza, Mason and McCown hope to be operational by June at their secured location on Highway 30, 305 Columbia River Highway, near Barlow's Bikes and Boards and [email protected] Georges, a local food cart.

"I'm looking forward to being able to pay back some of the support from the community and friends we've made here, and this is really a culmination of a lot of support from friends," McCown said. "It'll be fun to celebrate that collaboration that got us here."

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