That’s the question the family behind Misty Meadows has been asking for decades.
“I feel really blessed to be a part of it,” said Traci Keller, who owns the jam company which has become a must-stop location on any tour of U.S. Highway 101.
Now, 50 years after the company was first incorporated, Keller and her family are still serving up the jams, jellies, marmalades and fruit butters their store has become known for — just like grandma used to make.
“I like that philosophy,” Keller said.
The store, located just a few miles south of Bandon, is popular with tourists over summers and spring breaks (a recent drizzly spring afternoon saw the parking lot fill with license plates from Oregon, California, Pennsylvania and more), and has shipped its jams to as far as Guam with online and phone ordering.
Keller said out-of-state visitors are often shocked to discover the company is a family-owned business, and often make the store a regular stop.
“It’s really wonderful when we have recurring customers,” Keller said.
But Misty Meadows hasn’t always been the roadside-attraction storefront it is today.
It started much, much smaller: The first formal location was a card table set up in front of the Kellers’ home. With a crate of jams positioned next to a coffee can, sales were on the honor system.
Sandy, Traci Keller’s mother-in-law, made the jams by hand — first in the family home’s kitchen, then in the kitchen they’d added to the home for the purpose.
By 1971, Sandy and Mike Keller Sr., Traci Keller’s father-in-law, incorporated the company. Traci isn’t sure the exact date, but has picked April to celebrate the golden anniversary.
The card-table-and-coffee-can scheme quickly got four walls and a window, with employees to sell jars of jam to passing drivers out of what’s now a jerky stand on the property.
The then-jam stand was cold during the winters, remembers Tina Eikamp, whose sister worked inside it at the time. But after the company opened its storefront in 1999, Eikamp went in to apply for a job, and got hired to put labels on jars.
“When I was hired, it was like, almost a boring job,” Eikamp said, adding the store’s staff members had enough downtime to play rounds of Yahtzee during some slow winters. “It’s kind of crazy here now.”
Eikamp said much of that growth has taken place since Traci Keller and her husband Mike Keller Jr. (whose parents had started the business) took the helm.
That came in 2003, when Mike Jr. came to Traci about the possibility of taking over for his parents. Traci, with a background in retail, was a bit surprised by the idea — but that didn’t stop them.
“I don’t know anything about jam, but that’d be cool to carry on!” Traci Keller remembers thinking at the time.
Since then, the company’s seen exponential growth: The store shelves are now full with over 60 jams, jellies and fruit butters (not including other sauces like cranberry barbeque sauce or cranberry ketchup), and mail-order deliveries go out daily.
One of the first changes the company saw when Traci Keller took over was the move from the kitchen attached to the family home to a larger, standalone kitchen and storage facility behind the blueberry orchard on the property.
“That’s been a godsend,” Keller said, adding that the previous smaller kitchen got particularly hot with stoves and water baths at full blast.
The two giant freezers on one side of the building are a big help, too: Full to the brim with buckets of every type of berry imaginable, they hold each summer’s crop, so the cooks have enough fruit to keep cooking throughout the year.
And the company’s had its fifteen minutes of fame, too: TV star Mike Rowe visited the kitchen around 2008 with his show “Dirty Jobs” to make something of the local cranberries he’d harvested on another segment of the show.
“That was crazy,” said Keller, a longtime fan of the show. “It was unreal how much business we received after that.”
The family — which had just a few weeks advanced notice of the crew’s arrival — made special jar labels for the occasion. The special edition product Rowe made during the episode sold out very quickly, but Keller said they still saw a spike in business each time the show aired
And while she said the crew was easy-going and great to work with, she did have one minor disagreement.
“If we were dirty, the health inspector would shut us down,” she joked. “Of course, they made it dirtier than what (the cooks) do.”
Even though the jars of jam Rowe made were sold with special labels, they weren’t much different than the jars Sandy Keller made decades before.
“We do it like grandma did, with fruit, sugar, pectin,” Traci Keller said.
Keller is proud that she’s kept the recipe the same all this time — she didn’t know much about making jam when she took over, but after time in the kitchen with Sandy and some other longtime staff members, she learned the ropes.
She’s also proud of her berries — all but two kinds come from Oregon, she said. The others are harder to source locally, so she has to import them (like gooseberries: Their putrid green color and sour taste in jam have driven down their popularity, Keller said).
And while the company could produce more jars with machines, bottlers and automatic labelers, Keller said she’d rather keep things handmade.
“I like that feel. I want to keep that feel,” Keller said. “I’m happy being where we’re at.”
Misty Meadows, named for what Sandy Keller saw one morning over the family’s blueberry orchard, is located at 48053 U.S.-101.