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Making connections in Corvallis' food scene
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Making connections in Corvallis' food scene

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Michele Colomb might not own a restaurant, café or bar, but she’s an important mover and shaker in the mid-Willamette Valley’s food scene thanks to her volunteer work and bringing people together.

Last spring, Colomb started Corvallis Culinary Connections on Facebook and Instagram as a way to share information about what restaurants were open during the pandemic. The social media feeds also provided a spot for networking and a place to share positive news about the industry, as well as useful information.

“It was so confusing a year ago. Nobody knew about what was going on. Some of the restaurants had never done takeout,” Colomb said.

Businesses scrambled and tried to figure out how to deal with a ban on indoor dining — or, later on, how to protect sidewalk seating — and community discussions were held on social media.

The Facebook and Instagram accounts for Corvallis Culinary Connections — sometimes shortened to CCC — now have thousands of members or followers. Restaurants post about special deals, and diners share photos of their meals.

Colomb said she hasn’t made a dime off her recent efforts on behalf of the mid-valley food scene. She’s just happy to help out.

A few years ago, Colomb was a shift manager at a Corvallis Starbucks, but she stepped down and became a part-time barista to focus on her freelance writing career. She’s a contributing blogger for the U.S. Bartenders Guild, as well as a certified tequila expert, and she writes about cocktails and spirits-related events.

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Her freelance writing allowed her to travel to Mexico, Scotland, Puerto Rico, New Orleans and other locations.

When COVID-19 hit, numerous work trips were canceled, and at first Colomb didn’t know what to do with her time. Then she started worrying about how Corvallis restaurants were going to handle new government restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. How could she support these businesses?

Corvallis Culinary Connections was born.

Colomb grew up in Corvallis and graduated from South Albany High School, and some of her classmates are now top local chefs. She also worked at mid-valley restaurants while she was a teen, and her family ate at landmark dining spots such as The Gables. She developed a love of food and a curiosity about cuisine.

From 2009 to about 2014, she and her husband, who is originally from France, owned Creperie du Lys, a food cart. They became frustrated with Corvallis’ rules regarding that type of business. “I ran into this roadblock,” Colomb said. Among other restrictions, the law limited food carts to only 45 days per year at one location. “I spent about three years changing that ordinance,” Colomb said.

Without her and her husband’s efforts at City Hall roughly a decade ago, a food cart pod like Common Fields could not exist in Corvallis today.

Colomb said she serves as a consultant to help businesses navigate Corvallis’ food cart rules.

She also volunteers as a restaurant coordinator for It’s On Us Corvallis. During the pandemic, the local group has used crowd funding to collect donations and partnered with numerous restaurants to provide free meals in the community for those in need.

In Colomb’s heart, the restaurant industry feels like a sort of family. These are places where residents celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and other special occasions. Restaurants are integral parts of cherished memories. And she wants to make sure that these businesses survive the era of COVID-19.

“The general public doesn’t get that the margin for restaurants is extremely small. They need all the help they can get,” Colomb said.

“I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing because the need is there,” she added. “I want to help in more ways, especially outside of the downtown core.”

Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or kyle.odegard@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter via @KyleOdegard.

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