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Cheese is making a comeback


Brian, Rachel Howard are meeting rising demand for specialty foods at Madison Lane

by: VERN UYETAKE - Madison Lanes office in Lake Oswego looks like food heaven. Brian and Rachel Howard can hardly keep up with the demand for their products.The public has recovered its taste for expensive cheese.

That means Madison Lane of Lake Oswego is riding a big upsurge in people demanding classier cheese and much, much more.

“Overnight we grew from serving eight manufacturers to serving 38,” said company owner Brian Howard. “We’ve doubled our previous sales.”

“Food makers are calling us weekly wanting us to represent them in the Northwest,” said Rachel Howard, Brian’s wife and business partner. “I tell them there are only eight hours in day, although we work 10.”

A tour of the Howards’ headquarters on Upper Boones Ferry Road is enough to make one fall in love with food all over again. There is display after display of chocolate, a dozen varieties of crackers and cookies, olives, leeks, ketchup, spices, tea, jams, jellies, honey and much more. In a nearby area is a refrigerator full of cheese, cheese, glorious cheese.

All of these tasteful products are intended for the high end market, including super markets like Zupan’s, New Seasons, as well as specialty food stores and gift shops.

“If I want to sell it, I want to be able to eat it,” is Brian Howard’s motto. “We’re bringing the best to market. This is a niche nobody has served like this.”

The Howards are celebrating Madison Lane’s 10th year in business in 2013. It was a big step for Brian Howard, who had been in the food business his entire professional life, starting as a busboy at a Denny’s restaurant at age 15. He wanted to make a move because his employer had sold out to a giant company, and Howard had no desire to work for that sort of firm. He did have a dilemma. by: VERN UYETAKE - Rachel Howard gets ready to give a sample of one of the many classy products that Madison Lane provides to specialty markets and stores throughout the area.

“I only knew how to sell cheese,” Howard said.

His first step was to give a name to his new business. Naming it after himself was out of the question since if it flopped his name would be forever associated with failure. Then one day he learned that some friends were going to name their soon-to-arrive baby girl Madison.

“Classy,” Howard thought. Next it occurred to him to combine his own middle name, Lane, with Madison. Thus he had a classy name for a classy company.

Things were going just fine with Madison Lane until the economic crash of 2009 put many businesses out of business. Upscale cheese took a big hit. Customers were buying less expensive brands of cheese.

But recently the economy has improved, and people are again craving classy cheese. Howard is there to meet the demand. It has greatly helped his business that Rachel joined his staff six months ago. Like her husband, she has 25 years of experience in the food business.

The couple has big plans for the future.

“We’re rapidly outgrowing our space,” Brian Howard said. “Having a display kitchen would be nice. We’re going to hire a sales representative for the Seattle region in June and another Oregon sales representative in August.”

For more information go to madison-lane.com.