News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Iconic family business wins honors

Taking on a thriving family business and pushing it into new territory might sound like a dream job — but it can be extremely challenging. Justin, Jesse and Jared Durham of Sisters Coffee Co. have taken leadership in the business started by their parents Winfield and Joy Durham in 1989 — and they have won honors for it.

Sisters Coffee Company has been selected as this year’s winner of the Oregon State University College of Business’s Excellence in Family Business Awards in the category of Business Renewal.

In that category, the family works to ensure stewardship of the business that sustains growth and shareholder assets with future generations in mind.

Started in 1988, the OSU Austin Family Business Program Excellence in Family Business Awards are the nation’s first, competitive peer-reviewed awards focused solely on the accomplishments of family-owned businesses.

“We’re delighted to celebrate the achievements of these family-owned businesses,” said James Coakley, interim dean of the College of Business. “Part of our mission as a land grant university is to provide support for this important cornerstone of Oregon’s economy.”

Sisters Coffee Co.’s CFO, Tish Gowgiel, nominated the business.

“It seemed like kind of a long shot,” Jesse said. “We didn’t know how many people had applied and it’s a statewide award.”

The application and vetting process was extensive and challenging. Justin couldn’t attend the interview portion in Portland and had to make his presentation by phone.

“I have 15 minutes to condense our whole family story,” he said.

The program is looking for something more than a heartwarming family saga; they are looking for innovation, growth and forward thinking. The judges were impressed with the siblings’ openness to bringing in outside consultants to improve their operation and build their individual and collective leadership skills.

“You’re creating a platform for future generations and it’s very exciting,” Program Director Sherri Noxel told the Durhams in announcing the award.

In transitioning from a literal mom-and-pop operation, the Durhams brought in consultant Jan McGowan to assist them in articulating their mission, vision, and core values — and most importantly to act upon them. They developed an advisory board in 2014 to bring outside perspectives to what could otherwise be an insular operation, and they undertake monthly executive coaching.

“We just thought, ‘Oh, this is what you do,’” Justin reflected. “It seemed so obvious — we can’t do this by ourselves; we need to surround ourselves with perspective and wisdom. You bring in outside people who care, who will challenge you, even when you don’t want to be challenged — but that’s how you grow.”

The openness to soaking up input and education from outside sources clearly impressed the judges, who came back to that element time and again in the process.

“It seemed to set us apart from other candidates,” Jesse said.

Openness is an ethic that pervades the relationships Sisters Coffee Co. seeks to develop — and that includes openness about the challenges of siblings working so closely together.

“It’s really hard,” said Jared. “And we don’t shy away from that in any way. It’s hard to transition between the hats that you’re wearing.”

Toggling between professional roles and being a brother or a sister can be challenging, but the siblings feel like they are on a shared path with congruent values and desires.

“We’re all excited to be growing the brand right now,” Jared said. “We’re all excited to be part of a business that has impact all around the world.”

They enjoy working with other family businesses — like a multi-generation family coffee growing operation in Guatemala that they have grown close to on a personal as well as a professional level.

And they are happy that Winfield and Joy can come in and participate as helpers when they want to, while leaving the burdens of leadership to the next generation.

“I think it’s a very special way to honor our parents and the foundation they built,” Jesse said. “As siblings, I’m really proud of the job we’ve done working shoulder to shoulder with each other. It’s really satisfying to look back on all the progress we’ve made.”

“This year’s honorees are a diverse group of entrepreneurial families representing a wide range of industries throughout Oregon,” said Noxel.

The winners, including Sisters Coffee, are featured in a film depicting their operations.

The winners and finalists will be honored at a November 21 ceremony in Portland. Honorees are:

•?Family Harmony: Heritage Specialty Foods, LLC, Portland. Brown Butter Bakery of Scappoose and Dutch Bros. Coffee of Grants Pass were finalists in the category.

•?Generational Development: CRB Manufacturing, Clackamas. Finalists in the category were City of Roses Disposal & Recycling of Portland and George Morlan Plumbing

of Portland.

•?Business Renewal: Sisters Coffee Company, Sisters. Henderer Design & Build of Corvallis and Roby’s Furniture and Appliance of Tillamook were finalists in the category.

Sisters Coffee Co. is located at 273 W. Hood Ave. in Sisters. For more information visit

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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