When Joe Sinko, 77, was growing up in Bandon, it was very much a dairy town. The area was once home to as many as 180 dairy farms and more than a dozen creameries. Cows grazing in the rich grassland of the temperate Coquille River produced the milk, ice cream, butter and cheese that made Bandon famous up and down the West Coast.
In 1994, when Sinko bought the last remaining cheese producer (the Bandon Cheese Factory) it was a boyhood dream come true. His career in dairy manufacturing had taken him around the country, but returning to his hometown gave him the chance to take part in the business he’d grown up with. “I made up my mind at a very early age that I wanted to own my own dairy company,” he says.
Sinko’s son Brad came to work for him, learning the business from the ground up. Brad says his dad called him saying he could use some help, and the minute he walked in the door he was hooked. “I knew I was done. I knew I was there for quite a while.”
In 2000, nearing retirement, Sinko sold the cheese factory to the Tillamook Cooperative Creamery. That company ran it for three years and then closed it. The Sinko family and others in Bandon felt its absence.
In June 2013, the town saw the revival of its long tradition of artisan cheese with the opening of the Face Rock Creamery. Greg Drobot, who relocated to Bandon for a job, fell in love with the town, stayed, and now owns the company. Drobot had become enamored of the dairy history and decided to invest in Face Rock Creamery. “It really sparked something in me, he says. “I thought it would be a great industry to bring back to Bandon.”
He hired Brad — then head cheese maker at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese shop in Seattle, where he’d won several national awards — to head up cheese making at Face Rock. His father was thrilled to have him back home but also saw it as a win for Drobot’s business. “Brad has developed to a point where he has become nationally known,” says Sinko. “We’re fortunate to have him here in Bandon.”
On a typical sunny afternoon, a steady stream of visitors moves through the creamery’s front doors. People queue up to sample Vampire Slayer Garlic Cheddar, Face Rock’n Jack and other varieties. From behind large glass windows, they can watch Brad and his staff at work in the cheese making room. Drobot is on hand selling cheese, Oregon wines, and a selection of gourmet salamis and chocolates from the retail section of the creamery. From the mezzanine level, the view of the Pacific Ocean is bright and promising, and so is the future of Face Rock Creamery.