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Through The Doughnut Hole

World problems are solved each and every morning. With doughnuts and coffee.

MONMOUTH -- World problems are solved each and every morning.

With doughnuts and coffee.

The whole system depends on Chuck Wallace. He gets up every morning a little past midnight with a sacred charge. He must make the doughnuts, muffins and other pastries.

The future of the free world may depend on it.

Once upon a time, there was the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Writers, raconteurs and assorted thinkers of the day daily held court at a round table and exchanged opinions and bon mots.

They had nothing on the brain trust that meets at the bakery on Main Street in Monmouth.

They meet every morning at the bakery that was once part of The Market Place. The grocery store went out of business, but the bakery and its regulars keep going.

After all, the world still has problems to solve. Catherine Dixon, Truman Price, Tom Galli and Dennis Eberly still need coffee and doughnuts to solve them.

One big problem was solved late last month when Partnerships in Community Living took over operation of the bakery. Before the nonprofit organization stepped in, the bakery was about to share the same fate as the grocery store.

A whole cast of morning regulars would have to find someplace else to discuss the news of the day. More importantly, Tom Galli would have to go someplace else for his muffin.

Galli has been getting his morning muffin at the bakery since who-knows-when. He's actually the one that got the brain trust started.

"Tom's been like the host. He's introduced everyone," Truman Price said.

Galli even made their own version of the Algonquin round table. He noticed there needed to be a table in the bakery. So he just went home and made one.

Eberly supplied the small box of wooden wedges that sits next to the front entrance -- just to make sure no one has a seat or table that wobbles.

Galli said he just loves coming to the bakery every morning. He lives less than a mile away, so he can easily walk or take his bike.

The baked goods are great, he said. But what he really comes for are the people. "You meet new people and see old friends," he said.

"This really is a community meeting place," said Catherine Dixon.

"If anyone has a question about a tool, they can come in the morning and ask Dennis. He knows everything about just about every tool ever made."

Although she's on the board of Partnerships in Community Living, she had nothing to do with the decision to take over the bakery.

Steve Keszler, the business services director of PCL, began talking with Market Place owner Charles Caldwell about four months ago.

The grocery store was not doing well. Shelves were noticeably bare.

PCL staff members were concerned, Keszler said. They knew what the store, particularly the bakery, meant to the community.

They began talking about the possibility of taking over the bakery if the store closed.

By the middle of November, the talk turned serious. Caldwell and PCL officials started tossing about actual dollar figures. By Dec. 10, PCL officials were told the store was only going to be open for two more weeks.

Leaders of the nonprofit organization worked quickly to lease the bakery end of the operation. The bakery was only closed for a week.

For baker Chuck Wallace, that week was his first vacation in five years. "I knew it was coming back," he said. "Otherwise, it wouldn't have been much of a vacation."

Bakery manager Tracy Koziol was not so sure. "I thought I was out of a job," she said.

All the original bakery employees were back within seven days. So were the regulars.

It wasn't just an act of kindness, Keszler said. There was the quality of the doughnuts to consider. "The doughnuts are what this place is famous for."

PCL is usually in the business of providing independent living and vocational opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.

The bakery may offer some of those vocational opportunities. However, PCL clients won't actually be working in the bakery.

Baked goods from The Market Place used to be taken to restaurants, other grocery stores and Western Oregon University.

That part of the business ended when a second baker was laid off. Keszler said PCL officials hopes to rebuild that service. PCL clients might help with the delivery of baked goods.

One of the grocery stores that used to get baked goods from The Market Place was Super Value IGA in McMinnville. The owner of that store wants to buy The Market Place.

If that happens, he and PCL officials have agreed not to compete. The bakery may offer lunch -- sandwiches, soup, that sort of thing -- but nothing that would compete with a possible deli or other grocery offerings.

This week, bakery staff began experimenting with a bowl or cup of soup and a bread roll.

If the deal with Super Value IGA goes through, The Market Place will reopen around Feb. 1. The name will remain the same.

However, PCL officials are still looking for a name for the bakery. If the grocery store reopens, Keszler said there will probably be a joint grand opening.

Then there will be a contest to come up with a name for the bakery.

PCL staffers had to start the bakery business from scratch. The business is being leased because PCL staffers have not had time to come up with a business plan, get small business loans or anything.

"Two weeks is too soon for a business plan,'" Keszler said. "The lease buys us time."

A three-year plan is in the works.

There are a number of reasons PCL went into the bakery business, Keszler said. The most important reason is preserving a hometown institution.

"We truly saw it as an important part of the mainstream community," Keszler said.

"We take the `partnership' part of PCL very seriously."

Beyond that, the business will provide a regular source of revenue for the organization and vocational opportunities for its clients.

PCL gets some tax dollars, but none of them are being used in the bakery business. In fact, that would be illegal. PCL officials are only using money generated by the organization itself.

PCL officials have talked about starting a business for about four years. Three years ago, PCL tested the waters with Downtown Trends -- a small business which sold T-shirts, posters, beads and other items out of the Music Brokers store on Main Street in Monmouth.

"That was a learning experience," Keszler said.

When it looked like the Polk County branch of the Association of Retarded Citizens was going to lose its Next-to-New store, PCL stepped in to run it.

That was in December of 1999. Since then, 10 new people have been hired at minimum wage. Profits have increased by $10,000.

ARC is looking at ways to reinvest the money. "The store has shown a profit every single month," Keszler said.

A non-profit running a for-profit business is not a new idea. A similar nonprofit organization in Corvallis is running a bakery. So is another agency in Eastern Oregon.

Tracy Koziol is energized by the new arrangements. She has been running the bakery for two years. The final days of The Market Place were not pleasant, she said.

"It was frustrating before and now it's a whole new ball game," Koziol said.

"PCL has the ability to pump new life in the business and there's a lot of opportunity to do new things."

The Market Place's old bread area has been taken out to provide more space for seating. Koziol is looking forward to decorating the new bakery -- with suggestions from area residents.

"We really want community input," she said.

Working in the bakery, and getting to know the regulars, is great, Koziol said. She knows most of them by name and can get their favorite doughnuts and coffee ready before they even come to the counter.

The bakery is a lot more fun than working in the rest of the grocery store, she said.

"It's more personal and relaxed," she said. "People come here to unwind."

For Wallace, the bakery is a way of life. However, that doesn't make getting up at midnight any easier.

"I'm not used to it," he said. "There's something about getting up when the rest of the world is still asleep. You never get used to it. You just live with it."

Still, he said, it's all worth it because people enjoy their doughnuts and muffins. "Probably the biggest reward we have here in the bakery is when someone comes up and gives us a compliment."

For a lot of people, the bakery is within walking distance. It would have been a real tragedy for those people if the bakery had gone out of business, Wallace said.

They would have to walk to Independence.

"That's a long way to walk for a doughnut," Wallace said.

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