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Business roundup: A good place for romance

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The copper-topped cupola of the Pension Anna Hotel.

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A good place for romance

Hotel Pension Anna in Leavenworth has been named for the third straight year as one of the top 25 Hotels for Romance in the U.S. by the online travel site TripAdvisor.

The 20-room, family-run inn ranked 22nd on the list of some of the nation’s hottest hotel properties, including resorts in Palm Springs, Key West, Santa Fe and California’s Napa Valley.

We are so pleased that we made the Top in the Nation Choice Awards by TripAdvisor,” said Gary Thebault, who co-owns Hotel Pension Anna with wife Michele. “As always, we are proud to be part of Leavenworth’s Bavarian Village and all it has to offer.”

The Thebault’s daughter, Amy Gunderson, joined them last year to help run the place and assist in the hotel’s opening of four new Euro-style luxury suites in an expansion across the street. It’s called Pension Mischi (formerly Solstice Suites).

For more info on the TripAdvisor rankings, visit tripadvisor.com/travelerschoice-hotels-cRomance-g191


Schuster is insurance company’s top regional agent

A local New York Life insurance agent has been named as his company’s top agent in Eastern Washington for 2013.

Gordon Schuster, a New York Life agent for 15 years, received the 2013 Agent of the Year Award “for exceptional sales performance and leadership,” said a company press release. He also earned the 2013 Guaranteed Life Income Award, one of the company’s top sales honors.

Schuster, 63, is a financial services professional for New York Life at 37 S. Wenatchee Ave.

In earning the Agent of the Year honor, Schuster topped more than 80 agents in the company’s Eastern Washington General Office, including those in Yakima, Tri-Cities and Spokane. The region’s general office ranks in the top 10 of New York Life’s 119 districts across the U.S. for sales and service.

Schuster, a New York Life agent since 1999, specializes in personal investment and retirement strategies, as well as business and estate planning. He’s a member of the National Association of Financial and Insurance Advisors and holds a master’s degree from Eastern Washington University.

He and his wife, Kathy, have lived in Wenatchee since 1984 and have four children.


Women farmers to focus on opportunities of change

A seventh-generation farm owner from Vermont will share her strategies for farming success at the 2014 Women in Agriculture Conference set this month at 28 locations around the Northwest, including Wenatchee.

The one-day event, called “Change Happens: Make It an Opportunity,” will feature inspirational speakers, practical advice for improving farm management skills and opportunities to network with other women producers.

Last year, nearly 500 women attended,” said Margaret Viebrock, conference organizer and director of Washington State University’s Douglas County Extension office. “Many attendees reported it was one of the best conferences for women producers they’d been to.”

In Wenatchee, the Women in Ag Conference will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 15 at the Confluence Technology Center, 285 Technology Center Way. Registration is $25 before March 1 and $30 after that date. The fee pays for the conference, a light breakfast, lunch, printed handouts and a book.

The conference will also be held simultaneously at two other area locations: in Nespelem at the CCT-CFS Building, 37 Arrow Lake Ave., and in Republic at the WSU Extension office at the Ferry County Courthouse, 350 E. Delaware Ave. The conference will also take place at the same time at 25 other locations in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

At each site, three local presenters will discuss how they adapted to and profited from change in their farming operations. The keynote address by Vermont farmer Heather Darby will be broadcast to all locations as part of a Web teleconference.

Darby will talk about her family’s 200-year-old, 130-acre farm that produces a wide variety of vegetables and fruit, and includes a small apiary, fruit-and-vegetable farm stand and a custom grazing service for local organic dairies.

She’ll discuss how change has been a constant in her operation,” said Viebrock, “and how it’s presented her with a variety of opportunities related to financial issues, organizational management, employees, starting a family and handling risk management issues related to weather, prices and work-life balance.”

To get more information or register, visit womeninag.wsu.edu or call (509) 745-8531.

Royal City

State wants new rail line for Royal Slope

Wanna run a railroad?

The state Department of Transportation is looking for a freight rail operator to haul agriculture goods between Royal City and Othello.

The DOT issued a call for proposals last month to operate a train along the 26-mile section of track between the two cities. That stretch of rail has been out of commission for 16 years.

The chosen operator would maintain the track, run the train and also design and present an economic development plan on boosting rail shipping in the communities.

Deadline for proposals is noon on March 19, with the freight line beginning operations in May.

Most likely, fertilizers and chemicals would be hauled to the Royal Slope, a growing ag area around Royal City, and produce and other products hauled out, said DOT spokesman Tim Carroll.

The call for proposals went to about 1,000 rail industry operators and businesses.

The new freight line was made possible by a $750,000 grant from state lawmakers.

For more info, call Carroll at (360) 705-7595 or visit wsdot.wa.gov/Business/Contracts/default.htm.

Moses Lake

Get overview of hard cider industry at workshop

A workshop on the hard cider industry — from growing apples to marketing the finished product — will be held here this month, the event’s sponsor announced last week.

The one-day workshop, entitled “Hard Cider: From Orchard to Shelf,” will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 18, at Big Bend Community College. The event is sponsored by the Mount Vernon-based Northwest Agriculture Business Center, and the fee is $95.

Topics will include orchard practices — such as nutrient and pest management, orchard layout and irrigation, planting, pruning and mechanical harvesting — along with a look at hard cider production, including the costs and risks. Hard cider will be sampled to demonstrate its unique qualities and characteristics of the fruit, an NABC press release said.

For more information, visit the classes and workshops section at agbizcenter.org.


Score offers free business advice

New entrepreneurs and owners of existing businesses can get expert advice from a local corp of retired professionals.

The mentoring group SCORE, which touts itself as “counselors to America’s small businesses,” reminded business folks last week that their advisers can help start, expand or nurture back to health local businesses.

The free and confidential counseling is available by appointment, said a SCORE press release. For more info, call 888-2900 or visit centralwashington.score.org.


Tourism increases, but growth rate slows

The Washington Tourism Alliance last month released some industry stats from 2013. As a whole, it seems that tourism in the state grew last year, but at a slower pace than the year before.

Take a look:

  • Direct visitor spending across Washington was up 2. 4 percent over 2012, but that trails the year-over-year increase of 3.4 percent posted from 2011 to 2012.
  • Travel and tourism supported more than 154,500 jobs in 2013, up 1.6 percent, following growth of 1.9 percent in 2012.
  • The industry generated earnings (including payroll) of around $5 billion, up 3.9 percent following growth of 5.4 percent in 2012.

The WTA believes that while the small increases in tourism presented in the data might look good on the surface, the numbers actually tell a somewhat alarming story,” said the group’s February newsletter. The slowing pace of the industry’s growth is a call for more dollars and increased marketing, the newsletter said.

The WTA has proposed legislation to help fund its efforts to promote the state’s charms and attractions.

East Wenatchee

Port of Douglas County gets new development director

The Port of Douglas County has hired a Kittitas County official as its new economic development director.

Ron Cridlebaugh, currently serving as economic development director of the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce, was selected from a pool of 19 applicants that included local and out-of-state professionals.

The port announced the hiring Feb. 18. Cridlebaugh will begin work March 17.

We hope to use (Cridlebaugh’s) extensive experience in business development and recruitment, downtown revitalization and collaboration to move economic development forward for Douglas County and the entire region,” said Lisa Parks, the port’s executive director.

Cridlebaugh has served as executive director of the Ellensburg Chamber of Commerce, Ellensburg Business Development Authority and the Economic Development Group of Kittitas County. During that time, he assisted hundreds of small businesses with everything from business planning and marketing to site selection and permitting, said a port press release. He has also worked on projects from siting a new grocery store to helping plan a wind power project.

Cridlebaugh has also been involved in the operation of the Ellensburg Business Incubator, which has helped nurture small and start-up businesses, including the top-ranked Iron Horse Brewery.

He has also managed both the Ellensburg and Kittitas County tourism programs and guided downtown revitalization projects, including leasing a full slate of residential apartment and commercial spaces in a downtown Ellensburg building that was previously 90 percent vacant.

He’s also taught a 12-week Small Business Administration course for entrepreneurs.

The port’s interview panel chose six finalists from the pool of 19. The panel included Parks, port commissioner Mark Spurgeon, and Wenatchee economic development director Steve King.

The six people interviewed were all very qualified, making this an extremely difficult decision,” Parks said.


Penny floor makes perfect cents for restaurateurs

Penny for your thoughts? How about 100,000 pennies?

It’s tedious work, hard work, gluing down that many pennies,” laughed Teri Weedman, who with husband Don owns Cashmere’s Weeds Cafe, a downtown hotspot for coffee, soups, salads and sandwiches.

Together, the Weedmans glued enough pennies to 3-by-5-foot boards to cover 600 square feet of their restaurant’s dining room floor. Don, who did most of the gluing, said, “It took six-and-a-half gallons of Elmer’s Glue to hold the pennies in place.”

The penny floor, which will contain between 100,000 and 500,000 of the good ol’ American copper coins, is the brainchild of Teri, who first saw photos of a similar spread on the Internet. “I thought, wow, this coppery color would look great in our restaurant,” she said. “The color fits perfectly with our own color scheme.”

So one year ago, she began a penny-collection project that spanned the globe. Customers began donating pennies. Local kids collected pennies in jars. Pennies came from foreign countries — even Canada! — and exotic islands like Hawaii. Teri even bought $100 worth of pennies each week at the local bank to supplement donations.

In the end, 99.9 percent of the coins used to make the floor were American pennies, but with a sprinkling of U.S. dimes, 1-cent euro coins and penny-sized loot from other countries.

The Weedmans closed their restaurant Jan. 19, moved out all the tables and chairs and hired Pennington Concrete of Cashmere to install the penny-laden boards (which weigh 70 pounds each). Pennington employees James Shaffer and Silverio Murillo tacked down the boards, applied some grout and will assist Don in coating the new floor with a thin layer of epoxy. The whole project is expected to take 10 to 12 days.

This is sort of an experiment,” said Don. “I haven’t seen this same process used in making other penny floors. So it’ll be fun to see how it holds up to cleaning, furniture and people traffic. Who knows?”

And the Weedmans aren’t saying exactly how many pennies make up the new floor. They’ll hold a contest soon for customers to guess the number and, maybe, win a little jingle.

Details: Weeds Cafe, 201 Cottage Ave., Cashmere. The restaurant is currently closed, but the Weedmans expect to be open by Friday or Saturday — depending on how long it takes for the last coating of epoxy to dry.


Westside restaurant chain to open Mexican eatery here

Taqueria El Rinconsito, an expanding chain of Mexican restaurants based in Federal Way, has announced it’ll open its 14th eatery in Wenatchee by late April or early May.

The new restaurant will open in the former location of the 7-Eleven store that once operated at the corner of North Miller Street and Springwater Avenue. The restaurant will have around 15 employees.

We have a lot of hopes for our business in Wenatchee,” said El Rinconsito spokesman Enrique Islas. “There’s a large Hispanic population and many tourists and visitors who know our restaurants from the westside of the mountains.”

El Rinconsito has restaurants throughout Puget Sound, including Bellevue, Burien, Kent, Lynnwood and Tacoma. The company has two locations in Yakima and is planning the chain’s 15th restaurant in Vancouver later this year.

We see ourselves in a middle category between fast food and a family restaurant,” said Islas. “Customers order at the counter, and we bring the food to their table. It’s a concept that we’ve found our customers like a lot.”

El Rinconsito offers a full menu of traditional Mexican recipes — tacos, tortas burritos, enchiladas, soups and seafood — but also specializes in Spanish-style antojitos, which use a mix of meats, cheeses and vegetables in different styles of tortillas. The guarachi, for example, is a flat tortilla (pizza style) loaded with a layer of meat, then tomatoes and vegetables, then cheese and a variety of sauces.

Our goal,” said Islas, “is to serve tasty and authentic Mexican food at reasonable prices.” In Yakima, where competition is fierce among Mexican restaurants, El Rinconsito offers “happy hour” tacos for 69 cents from 2 to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Details: Taqueria El Rinconsito, 1100 N. Miller St., Wenatchee. Should be open by late April or early May. Info: elrinconsito.com.


Pita Pit brings quick, healthy food to area

The region’s first Pita Pit, a restaurant franchise serving healthy sandwiches and salads, opened here Feb. 10 after 10 months of planning by the owner.

Pamela Leseman, a longtime Ephrata resident and local eatery manager, said she’d wanted to open her own restaurant for years before falling in love with Pita Pit’s concept of “fresh thinking, healthy eating.”

Everything’s fresh pretty much from start to finish,” said the 51-year-old Leseman. “I love the decor, the menu and the attitude of helping people eat in healthy ways.”

Leseman said she decided on a Pita Pit franchise after three people in three days recommended the company to her. So she visited the closest Pita Pit — in Ellensburg — to taste the food and study the concept. “I knew right away that this was for me.”

The quick-serve restaurant serves healthy ingredients in pita-style pocket breads, said Leseman. Her location makes 15 different meat pitas, five veggie pitas, three vegan pitas and five breakfast pitas that are served all day. Salads are also on the menu.

Pita Pit originated nearly 20 years ago in Canada and expanded to the U.S. in 1999. The company now has more than 350 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, many in college towns and many open late to serve students’ erratic schedules.

Leseman’s franchise is located at 26 Basin St. NW in an historic brick building that’s graced Ephrata’s downtown since the late 1800s. The restaurant is open 10 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

For more info, call 754-7172, visit pitapitusa.com or visit the restaurant’s Facebook page (keywords: pita pit ephrata).


Shop closes as fresh-food group digs out of debt

The seven-year mission of one of the area’s primary advocates to “eat fresh, eat local” is likely coming to an end.

The nonprofit Community Farm Connection — parent of a fresh-food membership group (called a CSA) and its companion store, downtown’s Farmhouse Table — has recently phased out most of its programs and shuttered the shop in an effort to reduce its debt and rediscover its purpose.

We lost sight of what we originally aimed to do, and ended up trying to do too much with too little,” sighed Lara Hays, president of the CFC board and now its chief volunteer. “It’s called mission drift, and it’s common among fast-growing nonprofits.”

The good news: Farmhouse Table is set to reopen in April under private ownership in a larger space with an expanded product line. The CSA subscription service will survive, too, as part of Farmhouse Table’s effort to transform the former nonprofit to a money-making enterprise.

Otherwise, it’s been a tough year for Community Farm Connection.

Since January 2013, the CFC has lost its executive director, ended a series of educational workshops and shut down a state-funded program to link growers with local restaurant chefs. In the last six weeks, the nonprofit has handed off its gleaning program — a big supplier of fresh fruit and veggies to local food banks — to AmeriCorps VISTA, a national anti-poverty program with local ties.

And last month, the CFC agreed to transfer most assets of its CSA and store to its former Farmhouse Table manager, Sandi Bammer, who plans to reopen the store and CSA as a private business. Those transferred assets include the Farmhouse Table name, the list of local growers and suppliers, the list of CSA subscribers and a small amount of store equipment.

We’ve crunched the numbers, and we think it’ll work,” said Bammer. “We believe in what Farmhouse Table has accomplished and want to see it continue.”

Begun in 2007, the CFC at first focused on connecting small-scale farmers, artisans and producers of local-food products with customers who craved fresh food grown on local farms. The group’s CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture effort, has signed up between 100 and 120 subscribers each season to pay for pre-ordered box-loads of fresh fruit, vegetables, meats and cheeses on a weekly or monthly basis.

In conjunction, the organization’s downtown storefront — Farmhouse Table — became a hub for the “eat local” movement in the Wenatchee Valley. The shop at 10 N. Mission St. was a convenient outlet for farm-fresh fruit, produce and products such as hummus, jams, honey and sauces — a place, said Hays, where CSA members and nonmembers could pick up fresh-cut asparagus or organic apples at a moment’s notice.

All went well, said Hays, until an expanding number of programs required a growing number of volunteers and grants. Community Harvest, the group’s highly successful gleaning program, could demand up to 20 volunteers at its seasonal peak to gather surplus cherries, onions, potatoes or squash. Not to mention the leadership to coordinate such complicated projects.

Meanwhile, CFC’s annual income mostly remained below $200,000 — with much of that used to pay local growers for produce and products — but costs continued to escalate as more programs were added and Farmhouse Table’s paid staff grew to three employees.

Hays declined to say how big the group’s debt had grown, but pointed to a recent fundraising effort to raise $6,000 to pay off the final sum. Since mid-January, donations have totalled $2,300 and efforts continue to raise more.

We thought we had it under control,” said Hays. “But we had just too much going on and it became difficult to track.”


New place setting for the Table

Lovers of local fruit and veggies should take note: Farmhouse Table is shutting down but will reopen soon in a new location.

The downtown hub of the eat-local movement will relocate by mid-April to 1202 N. Wenatchee Ave. in the former location of Mike’s Meats & Seafood (adjacent to the Wenatchee Eagles Lodge and next to Buzz Inn).

Sandi Bammer, the new owner and a former Farmhouse Table manager, said the store’s inventory will be similar to the original Farmhouse Table — local meats, cheeses, breads, fruits, vegetables, artisan-made food products (such as jams and sauces) and some gift items.

At 3,200 square feet, the new store will be substantially larger than the original and should allow for some expanded product lines, said Bammer. Phase 2 additions — “still in the dream stage,” said Bammer — could include a deli or small cafe.

The new Farmhouse Table will also oversee the CSA service — weekly and monthly boxes of fresh produce, meats and cheeses for subscribers — and assemble the boxes in a designated space at the new location.

The new owner said she wants to see a continuation of Farmhouse Table’s mission — to connect area growers with consumers who value healthy, locally-grown foods.

We’re convinced this can be run as a private business,” said Bammer. “And that there’ll be profits. Not huge profits, but enough to make it work.”


Number of farms declines as farmers getting older

The number of U.S. farms is declining even as the value of their crops and livestock has increased over the past five years, a government census of American agriculture released last month says.

The survey, taken every five years, shows there were a total of 2.1 million farms in the United States in 2012, down a little more than 4 percent from 2007. That follows a long-term trend of declining numbers of farms.

Also, farmers are getting older — the average age was 58.3 years. But Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack points to a bright spot: a small rise in the number of farmers between 25 and 34 years old.

Vilsack says the boost in the number of younger farmers is partly due to increased interest and government support for locally grown foods and a thriving export market.

Many younger farmers work at smaller operations, where the boom in the farm economy and a rising consumer interest in where food is grown have helped them.

That boom has been good to all of farm country: According to the survey, the market values of crops, livestock and total agricultural products were all at record highs. Farms in the United States sold almost $395 billion in products in 2012, 33 percent higher than in 2007.

Still, farmers are aging. According to the census, a third of farmers were older than 65 in 2012.

The reality is, over time those folks won’t be able to continue farming, and the question for all of us is, if they don’t, who will?” Vilsack said after the report was released.

Vilsack has made the revitalization of rural America a priority at USDA. As people have moved to suburbs and cities, many communities have increasing poverty and fewer young people to take over family farms. He has also argued that the dwindling population has led to less political clout — made evident by a recent three-year congressional struggle to enact a new farm bill.

President Barack Obama signed the bill, which provides farm subsidies and food stamps, into law earlier this month.

My question is not just who is going to farm, but who is going to defend them?” Vilsack said.

The amount of farmland in the United States also shrunk over the time period, from 922 million to 915 million acres. At the same time, farms grew larger — the average farm grew from 418 to 434 acres.

Vilsack said he is most concerned about the survival of middle-sized farms, which declined in the last five years. The number of larger and smaller farms held mostly steady.

He said he believes that decline partly came from a lapse in disaster assistance while Congress haggled over the farm bill, drought in many states and rising feed costs.

Ideally, he said, many of the younger farmers who are working on smaller farms will eventually grow their operations.

One area of growth for agriculture is farms that are minority-operated.

The number of farms operated by Hispanics, African Americans, American Indians and Asians all grew between 2007 and 2012, and the number of Hispanics who were principal operators of farms grew by 21 percent. Still, farm country remains overwhelmingly white — 92 percent of farms are operated by whites, while less than 64 percent of the general population is white and the minority population is growing.

Similarly, only 14 percent of farms are operated by women, and more than 90 percent of those were smaller farms.

The survey also found:

  • Most U.S. farms are small: 75 percent had sales of less than $50,000 in 2012.
  • Agricultural sales per farm averaged $187,000 in 2012, an increase of $52,000 — or 39 percent — over 2007.
  • New England, Texas, Florida and many states in the Mountain West saw increases in the number of farms and some saw an increase in farmland. Many Midwestern, Southern and Mid-Atlantic states saw decreases. Vilsack said much of the growth in those states comes from an increase in specialty crops, mostly fruits and vegetables, that are increasingly popular with consumers.
  • The 10 states with the most farms are Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, California, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Only Ohio is new to the list since 2007.



Grant applications available for farmworker education

The Washington Apple Education Foundation announced Feb. 12 that applications for its farmworker education grants are now available on the WAEF website.

Community groups, religious institutions, public and private schools and other organizations helping ag workers and their families in adult education programs are eligible to apply. The deadline is March 15.

This year’s grants will be awarded to organizations providing educational programs to adult learners in areas where the tree fruit industry is prevalent. Such programs could include classes in English as a second language, adult basic education, parent empowerment courses and citizenship preparation.

WAEF partners with other groups and businesses to provide the grants. Those partners include Costco, Chelan Fresh, Jim Matson Memorial Fund, Oneonta Trading, U.S. Bancorp Foundation, Wells Fargo Bank and others.

For more info, call the WAEF at 663-7713 or visit waef.org.


Outdoor seating can remain downtown — for now

Downtown businesses will be allowed to offer outdoor seating for another year as the city works on new rules for it.

The city has been allowing businesses to use outdoor public space for private uses downtown for the past year. During that time, the city had hoped to develop design standards. But that hasn’t been done yet.

So the city will allow it for another year and ask the Wenatchee Downtown Association to suggest standards that could be adopted by the City Council.

Steve King, the city’s community and economic development director, said, “People have been pretty happy with it.”

But he said some people have expressed concerns about the lack of walking space around outdoor seating areas.

Probably the biggest issue is the combination of all the stuff on the sidewalk — garbage cans, benches, sandwich boards,” he said.

King said most cities that offer outdoor seating downtown have sidewalks that are a few feet wider than Wenatchee’s.

So it’s a little bit tight in places,” he added.

Mayor Frank Kuntz said, “It’s sure nice to see folks outside in the summer time.”

Councilman Bryan Campbell said he also likes the outdoor seating, but would like to see more standardization of rules.

I would caution those that have the right (to do it) to make sure they are maintaining a 5-foot width for people to pass,” he said.