When Face Rock Creamery opened in 2013, it meant far more than just a new creamery. “On our first day, people walked in crying,” says Greg Drobot, Face Rock’s owner and president. “These were grandparents who’d visited as kids. They were saying, ‘I’m so happy you’re back’.”
That’s because, to the city of Bandon, a creamery means far more than just cheese.
For 100 years, Bandon Cheese Factory employed thousands of workers — directly and indirectly — and was a central draw for locals and tourists. “Visiting was like a rite of passage,” says Drobot. But in 2000, the factory was bought by a competing company; three years later, it was shut down and demolished.
“It was like a death,” said Drobot.
At the time, Drobot was developing real estate in Bandon. When business partner Daniel Graham proposed opening a new creamery, Drobot thought he was crazy. He’d never even worked in cheese before. But Drobot loved Bandon and was inspired by helping restore its economy and cheese making tradition.
After researching the industry, Drobot saw space in the market and major financial opportunity. He was in.
To avoid the last factory’s fate, Drobot and Graham had to do things differently. First, they outlined their customer base not just regionally but throughout the world. They invested in state-of-the-art machinery and a 9,000 square-foot facility. Most importantly, they decided to produce a premium, artisanal cheese, which could command a higher price and consumer loyalty than a mass-produced cheese.
“We thought: we might as well set it up to dream big,” says Drobot. “If your heart is really in it, and you want to make it a success, you have to swing for the fences.”
The City of Bandon even got involved — purchasing the property back from the competitor and providing a favorable lease rate in return for tourism amenities like public restrooms.
The big win, however, came when Brad Sinko joined as head cheesemaker. Sinko is an award-winning cheesemaker who helped launch Beecher’s in Seattle; beyond this expertise, he is also the son of Joe Sinko, the last local owner of Bandon Cheese.
Sinko has plenty to work with. The Coquille Valley produces some of the richest milk in the country. Sourced just 20 miles from Face Rock’s facility, milk from their primary dairy partner arrives in peak condition and is then combined with high-quality, local ingredients, and finished by hand resulting in deliciously smooth cheddars and spreads. “We keep it old-fashioned and we don’t cut corners,” says Drobot.
Their craftsmanship has paid off. Face Rock has won multiple first-place awards at the American Cheese Society (“the Oscars of cheese,” said Drobot in another interview). Award-winning products include apricot honey fromage, garlic cheddar, and 2-year aged cheddar. Their clothbound cheddar recently scored a Good Food Award, which recognizes craftsmanship and sustainability practices.
As of 2019, Face Rock’s products are sold in more than 5,000 stores nationwide, with plans of expanding globally. It employs more than 30 people, attracted half a million visitors last year and has experienced double-digit growth since its opening.
“The creamery’s brought back an energy that was missing before,” says Drobot. “The people of Bandon have a pep in their step again.”