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It's a strange day at the office when you find yourself Googling the history of margarine.
It gets stranger still when you learn that a Frenchman -- from savory Provence, no less -- invented the buttery-hued schmear; that during the crusty course of its history some U.S. states banned it; Congress taxed it; laws prohibited coloring it yellow; and that 40 years ago a Portland entrepreneur was the first to start swirling it into the 1-pound plastic tubs so ubiquitous today.
Yes, here in the land of such edible treasures as Chinook salmon and chanterelles, hazelnuts and huckleberries, margarine -- oft maligned by dairy-centric food snobs -- made culinary history.
The year was 1966, and Robert M. Gregg, son of a North Plains mayonnaise maker, concocted a recipe, dreamed up a catchy name and started pumping out Gregg's Gold-n-Soft Margarine. By the following year, it accounted for 40 percent of his food company's business. It has persisted on supermarket shelves across the West ever since, selling better with Portlanders, incidentally, than with Seattlites.
Mike Gregg of Vancouver had recently seen new billboards promoting Gold-n-Soft and he'd noticed an uptick in TV ads for it. But it hadn't occurred to him that the ads signaled a milestone -- that 40 years had passed since his dad came up with "the biggest and best idea he ever had."
Margarine had been around since 1870. According to the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers, the French Emperor Louis Napoleon III hungered for a satisfactory butter substitute and offered a prize to whomever devised one. A fellow named Hippolyte Mege-Mouriez did just that, using margaric acid and coining the term margarine.
A New York company began manufacturing artificial butter the next year and within a decade was churning out several million pounds annually.
Butter makers balked. Long before consumers knew about saturated fat or had even heard of trans fat, the butter vs. margarine battle was on.
The margarine manufacturers' online history dubs butter activists "dairy militants," and describes how they pushed Congress to pass the Margarine Act of 1886, imposing a tax requiring margarine manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers to obtain expensive licenses. States outlawed the manufacturing and sale of colored margarine. The Armed Forces and federal agencies weren't allowed to use it except for cooking.
But by the 1940s, margarine makers had some grease of their own in Washington. Restrictions began to melt and after President Truman signed the Margarine Act of 1950, the federal margarine tax got the ax.
Back then, Robert Gregg had returned to Oregon after serving as a Navy pilot in World War II. He'd joined his father's food business, then taken it over. He mortgaged his house and took out a Small Business Administration loan to buy the most efficient machinery he could find for manufacturing mayonnaise, creating private-label brands for such grocers as Fred Meyer and Albertsons. To streamline the operation and maximize profits, Gregg bought entire rail tanker cars filled with vegetable oil, stocking up when the price was low and selling when the price climbed.
When Gregg discovered he could convert a machine designed for filling cottage-cheese and sour cream containers into a margarine maker, Gold-n-Soft was born. Other products he tried, from Cinnamon Swirl spread to Poke-a-Pops fruit drinks, never found the commercial success that the tub margarine did. On the heels of its success, Gregg took his company public in 1972 and retired a couple years later. He died in 1991, at 68, of congestive heart failure.
The company he nurtured, however, now owned by Ventura Foods, employs 80 people and continues to produce more than 1 million pounds of margarine a month at its plant near Portland International Airport.
At one point, the name Gregg's disappeared from the yellow margarine tubs. "But they got so many calls from faithful consumers," said Mike Gregg, "that they brought the name back."
At Home in the Vineyard: Cultivating a winery, an industry and a life is Susan Sokol Blosser’s account of the early days of Oregon's wine industry from her point of view as the co-founder of one of the first Oregon wineries to gain international recognition for premium-quality pinot noirs. She uses humor and honesty to recount the struggles and triumphs that she and her former husband, Bill Blosser, and their fellow pioneers encountered in the early days of Oregon’s wine industry. They had little capital and big ambitions.
Sokol Blosser and Bill bought their first vineyard, an abandoned Willamette Valley prune orchard, almost on a whim. Over the next two decades Sokol Blosser, Bill Blosser and their extended family learned just how hard it could be. They poured their hearts and their money into the business. They secured a Small Business Administration loan which they paid off by borrowing from family members because the interest rates of the 1980s shot sky high. After years of struggle, Sokol Blosser became one of a handful of internationally famous Oregon vineyard/wineries, and she evolved from earth mother to corporate executive, jetting around the country and schmoozing with owners of exclusive restaurants and wine shops. Her story celebrates the success of Sokol Blosser and of the wine industry as a whole, but she is candid about the toll it took on her marriage and family relationships.
Susan’s account of her milestones and critical moments during the time that the industry was growing in Oregon becomes a good primer for someone interested in starting a business.
Originally from Milwaukie, Wisconsin, Susan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Reed College.
One day, Tommy Ogawa was walking on a street in downtown Portland when a woman asked him, "Are you Tom Ogawa?" He told her that was his father. "Well, I went to school with him, and you walk just like him," she said. "I thought YOU were him!"
The younger Ogawa shares more in common with his family members than just physical attributes. He remembers making french fries with his paternal grandparents, Hank and Yo Ogawa, at their restaurant, The Polar Hut, while he was growing up. He also remembers spending summers working in a church camp kitchen in McCall, alongside his maternal grandfather, Marvin Trigueiro, a teacher with a culinary background.
When Tom Ogawa retired from teaching, he opened Ogawa's Teriyaki Hut. Tommy Ogawa later bought this, expanded its offerings, moved the location, and changed its name to Ogawa's. His sister, Chris Hicks, owns Zenbento's, a restaurant in Boise.
"I guess it runs in the family," Tommy Ogawa said of his culinary roots. "There are a lot of headaches in this business, but I love the people. I love meeting new people."
In recent weeks, his patrons have included travelers from Great Britain, and California, with the latter telling him the sushi they had at Ogawa's was better than any they have had in California.
"I like coming out and meeting people, asking them about their dinners," he said, noting he took this cue from his former employer, Salvador Sanchez, owner of Fiesta Guadalajara.
Ogawa recalled how one patron, who saw him sweeping, observed it was very professional to see an owner doing such work. "I just told him when my staff gets real busy, I just do whatever needs to be done." What Ogawa is doing now includes a good bit of catering, which is fine with the Ontario native. "Catering is," he said, "more profitable, because there is less overhead, and because there can be more exact planning and organization with catered orders; there is less guesswork." Earning some especially large catering jobs has been exciting for the entrepreneur, whose clientele extends throughout the region. In addition to catering, Ogawa also teaches sushi-making classes occasionally through TVCC.
Of course, his main connection to TVCC, Ogawa said, is the help he has received from the BizCenter. "I learned there's so much stuff I don't know business-wise," he said. "I could never have put together the business plan without Debi DeBord's help. I can't say enough about Debi." Today, Ogawa said, when people tell him they are thinking of starting a business, he quickly refers them to assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration through the TVCC BizCenter. Ogawa asks them, "Where's your business plan? What are your projections; your estimated profit and loss?" Ogawa noted these are some of the many concepts he learned working with the BizCenter staff. Ogawa said DeBord helped him immensely, sharing these concepts without making him feel foolish. "The thing about working with entrepreneurs is they are people who are generally very up and optimistic," said BizCenter office manager Deb Carpenter. "That's the great thing about Debi (DeBord). She is able to tell them everything they need to know without squelching that enthusiasm."
"She went way above and beyond," Ogawa said. "And, all that advice and help was free!"