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Willamette General Store holds grand opening

by: VERN UYETAKE Cameron Jacobson of West Linn serves as the cook at the newly-opened Willamette General Store sharing items from his Traeger barbecue such as quiche, barbecued brisket, grilled chicken and gluten-free peanut butter cookies.

West Linn resident Ryan Dato, as the new proprietor of Willamette General Store, is stocking his shelves daily with items geared toward bringing in customers for one-stop shopping.

In partnership with his dad, Dick Dato, who invested in the business and also serves as treasurer, the Datos purchased the inventory and some of the equipment from the previous owner. At the end of May they painted and remodeled the space completely before opening the convenience store on July 1.

'My dad is on the computer here every day, keeping us straight with the checkbook,' said Dato, whose 15 years' experience in industrial sales and supervising teams has given him a good background for interpersonal relations and customer service.

With his gregarious personality, you know he means it when he said, 'We love to hear the 'you oughtas,'' in referring to customers' suggestions about what to carry as inventory and what kind of food they might think about serving.

Right now the kitchen/deli, - run by cook Cameron Jacobson, who has lived in West Linn for 15 years - serves items such as quiche, barbecued brisket, grilled chicken, gluten-free peanut butter cookies, Caesar and Greek salads and scones - to name just a few.

And all the items, including baked goods, are made fresh each day on a Traeger barbecue.

'If you've never had something off a Traeger before,' Dato said, 'you are in for a treat.'

People are so astonished that even baked breakfast goods can be made on a barbecue that Jacobson is compiling an extensive list of people, both beginners and experienced cooks, who are interested in taking cooking classes that will be offered in the near future.

'I always wanted to cook in a country store setting,' Jacobson said. 'I find I can make people happy through my cooking. What more fun can a guy have than playing with his barbecue all day?'

And for those who stop in for the coffee, they might recognize former Salute employee Curt Gillis - known for his popular frittatas and pleasing coffee drinks who now brings his coffee expertise to the Willamette General Store.

In addition to the food, Dato currently has about 50 craft beers in the cooler and is hoping to build that number to about 100.

In fact, the beer was part of the enticement that persuaded Lake Oswego residents Jennifer Curran and Tracy Tingwall to cross the street while visiting a recent Wednesday farmers' market.

The barbecue and beer signs brought us in,' they both agreed, as Dato explained to them their choices, from fruity tangerine and strawberry to a more hefty dark.

Dato said he would like the store to become a cornerstone for the south end of Willamette Falls Drive.

'We want this to be a favorite place for families,' he said. 'Kids can come for a gelato treat. There will be something for moms, dads and kids.'

A top-of-the-line humidor is set to arrive today from Tampa, Fla. In addition to making humidors for casinos in Las Vegas, the company has also made one for Mike Ditka.

'And that's good enough for me,' Dato said. So he ordered one and will stock it with a variety of fine cigars.

A grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 6, with lots of events being offered throughout the day.

Free illy coffee will be offered from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The signature pieces of the store, Traeger barbecues, will be going all day until after dinner, with lots of free tastings being offered. A pulled-pork slider-eating contest is being planned, and there will be wine tasting. Widmer Brothers beer tastings will take place from 1 to 3 p.m.

In addition to nuts and bolts, the store also offers catering, and a commercial-size Traeger is available for rent.

All about community, Dato is supplying jobs to nine employees and hopes to raise that number to 15 'if we make it through.'

Ryan and Jacobson said they are always willing to try something new, saying in unison, 'Just let us know ahead and we'll make it.'

Willamette General Store, located at 1720 Willamette Falls Drive, is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week and by phone at 503-656-7344.