Kathleen McLaughlin
The Bulletin

What: Newport Avenue Market

What it does: sells groceries, prepared food and gifts

Pictured: CEO Lauren Johnson

Employees: 120

Website: www.newportavemarket.com

Two statues, a 10-foot tall bear and a sasquatch, arrived at Newport Avenue Market on Dec. 15 for no other reason than to make people smile, said Lauren Johnson, CEO of the employee-owned grocery company.

“The last year or two has been pretty tough on people from a political stance. We’re such a polarized society,” she said. “People need to lighten up. It’s OK to have differing opinions. Let’s all get along and have fun.”

The Bigfoot and bear will eventually get colorful names like their counterparts inside the store, “Viris” the cow and “Francine Bearbottom.” Devoting floor space to animal statues is also part of a strategy that sets Newport Market, as it’s known, apart from its many grocery competitors in Bend.

“We want it to be an experience, and we want it to be entertaining, if you will,” Johnson said. “We hope people can kind of take a break from reality when they’re here. Take a big deep breath, and spend the time if they want to.”

Johnson, 43, is busy with a lot more than buying statues at trade shows. Since returning to Bend six years ago to help lead the company started by her parents, Rudy and Debbie Dory, she’s overseen the transition to employee ownership in 2015, the acquisition of Melvin’s Fir Street Market in Sisters in September, and the addition of a liquor section, which opened earlier this month.

Johnson sat down with The Bulletin to talk about the future of Newport Market. Her responses have been edited for length and content.

Q: Where do you see the company in five years?

A: Gosh, I hope we have a few more stores. The value of being employee-owned really comes from the growth of the company, and the profitability and success of the company. That growth piece is really the important one.

Q: In which region are you shopping? What kind of stores are you targeting?

A: Central Oregon, but the sky’s the limit, frankly. Sisters has been so nice and close. It’s really been a great stepping stone into multiple locations for us. When I say ‘us’ I’m talking about our whole staff. Certainly for (General Manager) Joe (Anzaldo) and I, it’s very, very exciting because we’re leading the charge.

If there were a location that came available that were very much a traditional grocery store, that’s OK. If it’s been a successful business, why would we want to change it? If it was an incredibly successful hardware store, great, let’s talk. At the end of the day we have to be forward-thinking for our employee ownership to grow this.

Q: How did Newport Market evolve from conventional groceries to gifts and specialty and prepared foods?

A: Our specialty really began with a four-foot shelf. It was olive oils and vinegars. That was really when my mom got involved in the store and realized even back then the evolution of our store had to happen and go in a direction other than traditional grocery. As my dad likes to say, it was her vision. He just had to figure out how to pay for it.

Q: Your mother previously owned Donner Flower Shop. What was it like growing up with small business owners?

A: Very busy. Very structured. We ate dinner together every night as a family. At one point Rudy had nine stores around the state. So it was just Sundays off for our family. I think that’s what instilled the entrepreneurial spirit in me, seeing how much fun they had doing what they did.

—Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com