BANDON — Photographers had no trouble catching Bandon dignitaries smiling as they posed with golden shovels at Face Rock Creamery's groundbreaking ceremony Monday afternoon.

Maybe it was because everyone kept saying, 'Cheese."

Co-owner Greg Drobot told the audience of about 100 people that Face Rock Creamery's factory and retail shop will open in the spring.

Drobot and Daniel Graham are investing $2 million from various sources to build a 6,000-square-foot cheese factory with a viewing gallery for visitors, a retail shop selling cheese and gifts, and a dining area with sandwiches, salads, ice cream, beer and wine.

Among the investors is the Port of Bandon's economic development fund, which is lending the developers $250,000, said Robert Miller, president of the port commission.

Cheesy old Bandon

Miller said he's glad to see cheese making returning to Bandon, which once boasted 10 cheese factories.

'It leverages our strengths instead of trying to be something we're not," he said.

Also looking forward to the creamery's opening are Leonard and Bob Scolari, whose Milk-E-Way Dairy near Coquille will supply all the creamery's milk.

The Scolaris currently have 175 cows, but Leonard Scolari said they could expand to 400 if demand warranted it.

'Hopefully, it'll help us and Bandon both," he said.

When the creamery is producing at full capacity, Drobot expects it will employ 10 people -- similar to the old Bandon Cheese Factory's workforce. He hasn't yet hired a cheese maker, but said he's close to doing so.

Local marketing

Besides cheddar, Jack, and those squeaky cheese curds that the old Bandon Cheese Factory manufactured, Face Rock plans to offer butter and some more exotic styles of cheese.

'Not the moldy ones, though," Drobot said.

Drobot said he'll focus on marketing Face Rock's cheese locally at first.

'We hope our cheese will be its own marketing campaign," he said. 'There's such a built-in demand locally."

'Once we build that up, we'll expand."

After the ceremonial spadefuls of gravel were thrown, the guests moved to the Bandon Barn to socialize and nibble.

The room was decorated with Anne Sobbota's photos of dairy cows and some Bandon Cheese Factory memorabilia.

Guests also could get a look at Face Rock's website, where a webcam will soon let visitors monitor the progress of construction.

Others eye site

Although city officials long have sought a replacement for the Bandon Cheese Factory, which closed in 2002, the project couldn't get traction until last summer, when Bandon used urban renewal funds to buy the vacant two-acre site for $500,000.

The city will pave a one-acre parking lot and install a public restroom, which Face Rock Creamery will maintain. In lieu of rent on its site, the creamery will pay a percentage of its gross revenues to the city.

Coos County commissioners voted in April to expand the county's enterprise zone to the site, giving the creamery a three-year respite from paying property taxes on its building.

Although a new cheese factory on U.S. Highway 101 undoubtedly will attract visitors, 'what's going to be key will be the city's development of the rest of the site," Drobot said.

He said a brewery, a sausage company and a candy company have expressed interest in building there.

Drobot said the help of Joe Sinko, former owner of the Bandon Cheese Factory, was key to the project.

'If it weren't for Joe Sinko's knowledge and expertise," he said, 'I probably wouldn't be taking on this type of investment."

Reporter Gail Elber can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 234, or at gelber@theworldlink.com.

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