ADDRESS: 1644 Main St, Philomath, OR
OWNERS: Lynda and Sandy McHenry
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 2
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 6 full-time, 22 part-time
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: For delicious food served by a friendly, dedicated staff. Gluten-free cooking is their specialty.
With amazing energy, commitment, and skill, Lynda and Sandy McHenry have turned a personal challenge into a business that literally serves the entire local community. Delicious, down-home cooking is offered in generous portions, and there’s something for everyone – whether you’re a meat-eater, vegetarian, or vegan. But what sets Eats & Treats apart is the fact that it’s the only totally gluten-free restaurant in the area. Lynda and Sandy’s appreciative customers use words like “amazing”, “awesome”, “great”, and “our favorite” to describe the comfort food served at Eats & Treats – and there are good reasons they keep coming back for more.
Sandy, when and why did you and Lynda decide to start your business? We started the business for our daughters. When our older daughter was a freshman at OSU, she became very ill and went through major surgery. But even after the surgery she was still very ill, and the doctors were talking about more extreme treatment, like chemotherapy. At the time, she was studying nutrition at OSU and had gone to a lecture on gluten intolerance. It prompted her to be tested for gluten intolerance, and it was positive. Everyone in our family took the test, and we found out our younger daughter was also sensitive to gluten, but not as much as her sister. All four of us went on a gluten-free diet, resulting in the reversal of all of our daughter’s symptoms, as well as the elimination of some major maladies we were experiencing ourselves.
Going gluten free motivated us to establish Big River Grains, a dedicated gluten-free flour and grain company. We soon realized people wanted gluten-free mixes, which led us on a search for a test kitchen in which we could experiment. The search ended when we found a vacancy at Eastgate Business Center and signed our first lease in January 2012. We spent 2½ months cooking and giving away food, just so we could test our products. We served 8 different free dinners, each with around 30 people. Each dinner featured 5 to 8 breads, 3 entrees, and several salads. We wanted feedback from a diversity of people. Our goal is to make gluten-free food that tastes no different than regular food.
We opened for business in March 2012. As soon as we opened, we realized that people were really hungry for great gluten-free food. Demand just went up and up and our facility was being pushed beyond its capacity. We needed to expand. Then this building on Main Street in Philomath came up for sale, we bought it and spent 6 weeks renovating it. Our staff came with us. When we opened last October, we got hit with so much business! The first 3 weeks were chaos, the next 3 were organized chaos, the 3 after that were organized, and now we’re creating new menu items every day. We offer a special menu item daily, and we’re working on selling baked goods and gluten-free mixes. We also plan to offer future cooking classes on how to make cinnamon rolls and breads.
Tell us more about your restaurant. We don’t advertise this as a gluten-free restaurant. It’s just delicious home-cooked, stick-to-your-ribs, comfort food and serious BBQ. We serve darn good food in ample portions at reasonable prices – food like mac and cheese, and homemade soups; and waffles, huevos rancheros, and biscuits and gravy at our Sunday brunch. I’ve been barbecuing since college, so I oversee all the meat cooking. We have very talented bakers and cooks.
Gluten-free cooking is an evolving science – both in the medical profession and in the food business. We’re diligent about making sure our ingredients are gluten-free. The trust factor among our gluten-free customers is a wonderful thing, but it’s also an enormous responsibility. The real cost of gluten-free cooking isn’t in the ingredients; it’s in the labor.
I think what sets us apart is that even though EVERYTHING at Eats & Treats is dedicated gluten free, we demand that our food is great in and of itself. We won’t settle for serving substandard taste and texture because something is gluten free. It has to be just darn good food, period! If ever we have to discuss whether something is good or not, the discussion is over. It won’t be served.
What does being featured as the Local Business of the Week mean to you? It’s really an honor. It gives us the ability to communicate to people that we’re doing a good job, serving great food in a warm and friendly atmosphere.
Does your business fill an unusual niche? Definitely. I don’t know of any other dedicated gluten-free restaurants in the area. We read every label constantly, and we check with our suppliers to ensure all our ingredients are gluten-free.
What challenges have you faced as an independent local business owner? One major challenge was dealing with the regulatory agencies in Linn County when we were located at Eastgate. But Benton County and Philomath officials have been great to work with; they’ve provided clear answers and quick turnaround. Of course, another major challenge was the fact that we had never run a restaurant. We both have a tremendous amount of business experience, but not in the restaurant business. Every day is a new learning experience. We are most fortunate to have a team of amazing individuals working together with us toward the same goal of creating wonderful food and serving it in a friendly atmosphere.
What do you feel is the impact of local independent businesses on Corvallis? It depends on the business and what they’re making. A local business that provides goods and services that the community wants, at a fair price, contributes to the richness and diversity of the community.
What do you enjoy most about owning a local, independent business in Corvallis? It’s the mental stimulation of providing products and services that people want and appreciate. And both my wife and I really like people. When people say, “That was a great meal!” it’s an emotional paycheck.
What is your relationship to the community? We’ve both been involved in philanthropy all our lives. Lynda is the immediate past president of Zonta Club of Corvallis. We’re members of CIBA, Visit Corvallis, and Philomath Chamber of Commerce, and we support various philanthropic organizations in the area. We are also in the process of contacting local organizations to use our display windows to advertise various local events.
Have you added jobs since the business started? In addition to ourselves, we moved to Philomath with 10 existing employees (about 6 FTE’s), and since, have added 18 more employees, taking us to 15.5 FTE’s, all local.
How important is sustainability to you and your business? I’ve recycled for 40 years. It’s probably my Scottish heritage. We recycle everything we can because it’s just a good thing to do. The way I see it, sustainability is about staying in business and treating our employees well.
(Interview and article by Annette Mills — January 2014)
The Local Business of the Week program is designed to help the Corvallis community identify our locally owned independent businesses by featuring one business each week. The program is part of the Buy Local First campaign co-sponsored by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and the Community Independent Business Alliance (CIBA).