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Mt. Hood Roasters Coffee Company celebrates 20 years posted on 11/01/2022

This month, Rick and Jiyeon Applegate will celebrate 20 years of owning and operating Mt. Hood Roasters Coffee Company – a micro roastery based in Rhododendron offering beans, blends, beverages and more to visitors in the area and beyond.

It’s a story that blends one of Oregon’s most prominent pioneer family’s name, Applegate, in an area famous for the contributions of another pioneer, Sam Barlow, utilizing equipment developed by Oregonian Mike Sivetz, one of the most celebrated names in the air coffee roasting industry.

“We’ve always been fiercely in love with Oregon,” Rick said. “It’s history, it’s culture and the whole culinary piece that makes Oregon so special. Coffee, beer, wine and now spirits. To be able to participate in that culinary endeavor is really exciting to us.

But if the timing didn’t work out just as it did, the Applegates might be celebrating a different anniversary this year, rather than reflecting on the past two decades on this side of Mount Hood.

Rick retired from the Army in 2001 and was looking for a good opportunity to run a small business, and while his wife, Jiyeon, suggested a small teriyaki restaurant, the owners of a roastery and coffee shop in Welches were looking to sell. Despite not knowing much about coffee, the Applegates dove in with John and Teresa Ayala, with John being the brains behind the company’s original coffee blends and Teresa, Jiyeon and Rick leading the day-to-day operations.

The Applegates had a vision for their new business: they wanted Mt. Hood Roasters Coffee Company to function in a way that a winery might, with a home, production facility and cottage where restaurateurs and chefs could visit, stay and build relationships.

Their search for just such a perfect location took them to Cascade Locks to see if something was suitable for their operations in the Columbia Gorge.

“If God’s opening this door, we need to walk through it,” Rick recalled discussing with his wife about the opportunity.

But fate intervened, as only a few days after visiting Cascade Locks, the owner of a property in Rhododendron dropped by the restaurant to see if the Applegates would be interested.

“We went up there and we looked and it was exactly what we needed,” Rick said, adding that he was unsure at the time if they could afford it. “The way things worked out, we sold the restaurant, sold our house and bought (the property) within 30 days. Everything just fell in line.”

That was not only a key moment for their business, but their lives, he added.

Toasting the roasting highlights

Rick reflected on the past 20 years roasting and brewing coffee, noting a few of the many instances that stood out. One was when the National Geographic Society put Mt. Hood Roasters Coffee Company on the National Geographic MapGuide to the Central Cascades.

“When we fold that map out still, we see Timberline Lodge and Mt. Hood Roasters as the two Mount Hood GeoTourism significant points of interest. We’re really proud of that,” Rick said. “That’s the platinum standard.”

Another was in December 2019, when actress and Oregon native Katee Sackhoff spent several days at Mt. Hood Roasters Coffee Company for two episodes on her YouTube channel. Sackhoff, known best for her role as Lieutenant Kara “Starbuck” Thrace in “Battlestar Galactica” and as Bo-Katan Kryze on both “The Mandalorian” and “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” animated series, spent time on Mount Hood as a child and her time as a barista at Mt. Hood Roasters Coffee Company brought out a large number of fans.

“Katie Sackhoff was a big thing,” Rick said. “We had so much fun to be found by a celebrity like that.”

But Rick also points to a heart attack he suffered in 2013 that changed the direction of the company. He spent the next three years recovering, and the visions of growing the company to something even bigger were gone.

“Life isn’t about trying to build a $10 million dollar company,” Rick said, noting that his priority at the time was to reduce stress. “That really changed the operations tempo of our business and our long-term focus.”

That focus included more efforts into fundraising and using the power of the company to create financial resources for other organizations and in the community.

“I came to the realization that you can be profitable and for profit, and benevolent at the same time,” Rick said. “They’re not mutually exclusive ideas.”

Among the ways that Mt. Hood Roasters Coffee Company has given back includes, helping buy playground equipment for several schools, supporting the Mt. Hood Ski Patrol, partnering with groups and people for fundraisers, such as raising money with Sackhoff for local Oregon schools, and so many more.

Rick also looked to help support his employees, offering competitive wages and encouraging them to buy homes and offering them sick time where unused days can be exchanged for more vacation at the end of the year.

“It’s so much more manageable for us,” Rick said. “I think it’s the right thing to do as a small company.”

Mt. Hood Roasters Coffee Company also brought in people through Oregon’s JOBS Plus program, while also partnering with Clackamas County on jobs programs, including one that helped juvenile offenders with internships to get them back on their feet.

“We’ve been able successfully, with six families, to move them out of welfare and into full employment,” Rick said.

And the charitable endeavors continue to this day, as Mt. Hood Roasters Coffee Company and Sackhoff have paired up again for another fundraiser to fight children’s cancer, leading to more opportunities with other celebrities to make a difference.

Rick, who will turn 60 early next year, noted that the long-term future of the business will lie in somebody else’s hands.

“Who’s the next generation, that’s what we’re looking for,” he said.

By Garth Guibord/MT

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