Where Raw Comes From: Before Betty Began Rawking It
Where Raw Comes From: Before Betty Began Rawking It
by Kate Wildrick
I am proud that I can say, “I remember when I knew Andrea Wyckoff Mills before she launched Betty Rawker.” There is a story that I wish to share with each of you about Andrea and our brief road traveled together that has brought us to this point of doing the Betty Rawker Raw Foods Class that is coming up in March. Behind every great idea that can change the world and peoples’ lives, there is an amazing person. This is my story and gift to Andrea about how she has inspired the world around her.
Some of you know that I used to own and operate a town in Central Oregon, named Service Creek, Population 2. In 2007, my ex husband, Dave, and I set out on a wild west adventure to get away from the corporate world and pave a new path. Service Creek is situated in the heart of the John Day Basin in Wheeler County. It is a playground for rafters, hunters, scientists, bikers, outdoor enthusiasts and artists. As much as it may draw in tourists from many corners of the world, the tourist season is short lived. For approximately six months out of the year, the peak traffic hits around Memorial Day and stays steady through Labor Day. The sleepy neighboring towns (Fossil, Mitchell and Spray) surround Service Creek. Together, each of these communities work to rake in as much as they can to help support them through the off season. It was and still is an extremely depressed area of Oregon. With approximately 1,200 people in the entire county, the average age is now 61. It is so remote, that Wheeler County is not classified as rural. Instead, it is identified as “frontier” land. The nearest stop light is an hour and half away.
We spent the first tourist season learning all we could from the owners. The next year, we were on our own. During the winter time, we did all we could to keep our only employee on board. However, come spring, she turned in her notice that her last day would be during Memorial Day weekend (our first busy weekend). I have a background in human resources and organizational development which made finding talent easier. However, with such a small local workforce to hire from, we knew that we were going to have to struggle a while until we found the right crew to help us run the five businesses that made up the town (restaurant, lodge, store/deli, raft rental and river shuttle services). Things began to heat up. The excitement around new ownership brought many locals in that hadn’t been there in years. This, combined with all of the tourist traffic made for extremely long days. At night, for the small window of time that Dave and I would have to ourselves, I would say, “You know what we need? We need someone who can step in as our right hand person… Someone who gets the whole operation and can help market it, identify areas we can leverage to meet the tourists desires and can balance out what the locals want too.” Dave would say, “Where are we going to find someone like that?” It is here I learned that if you ask, you might just get what you are looking for.
Within the next week, after working with a half trained crew, I sat down exhausted next to new friend I had made who had also relocated to the area. She stated, “Kate, I don’t know how you guys are doing this? You need help, what are you going to do? How are you going to find someone?” While she was asking these questions, I looked over at my two employees who were bickering and picking on one another and thought to myself, ‘yup, I’ve got to do something…’ So, what happened next went against every rule I had been taught from the corporate world. I stood up and announced in my restaurant that we were hiring and that if anyone out there was looking for a job, to please see me. At that moment I didn’t expect anything to happen, as the restaurant was filled with all tourists. But several people from a large group yelled back at me, “Hire Andrea! She wants to be here!” I laughed. They waved me over and came up to the table to where she was sitting.
“Is this true?” I asked.
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “I have been wanting to move out here for so long but didn’t know where I could find work!”
“Let’s talk,” I said.
Andrea told me she was out on a trip with the Portland Hiking Group and would camping nearby . Over the next couple of days, she told me about her background. She was a true adventurer, homesteader and DIY’er at heart. We hosted her to do some job shadowing over the next couple of weeks to see if living and working out in Wheeler County was for her. After some thoughtful consideration, she accepted the offer. We worked with a local doctor to get her set up in his house rental. She moved out in the summer of 2008 with her two chihuahuas (Mimi and Ginger) to join our team and win the hearts of many in the county.
Andrea showed a huge aptitude for making incredible dishes. She was best known for her world-class pies. However, after working there for a few months, we all noted that we were beginning to develop some food issues. Andrea began to notice severe back pain and gluten and dairy intolerances. As she worked to come up with creative ideas to help her dietary needs, she would share what she created with us and our customers. I believe that we were able to see her inner “Betty” emerging as adversity presented opportunity.
Andrea’s creativity and resilience has filled me with some wonderful and fond memories of Service Creek. Throughout all of our outdoor concerts where the Nevercanevers performed on a trailer out in the Service Creek parking lot, late night’s talking with guests out on the porch, hanging out in the river, and dealing with “challenging” customers, Andrea was there till we finally had to close the doors and say good bye when the economic downturn hit in 2009.
With the rise of the Ingenuity Innovation Center, it only seemed fitting to invite her and Betty Rawker to show how one can reinvent oneself through food and health. I have no doubt that March’s event will be filled with hilarious stories, good food all while making new friends. We hope you can make this special event. I know that I am really looking forward to what Andrea has “uncooked” up. To learn more about Betty Rawker, visit her website or Facebook page. For more about Andrea’s adventures in Wheeler County, check out her blog.