An Appetite for Renewal: How food helped save a small Idaho town

By Mina Ashkannejhad / Photography By Mina Ashkannejhad | March 04, 2018
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There are no stoplights as you pass through the town of Deary, Idaho, population around 500. It looks like a lot of small Idaho towns: obligatory post office, old gas station, small grocery and local bar. A few intersections and you’re through the town, back to fields and forested hills on a two-lane highway.

But right in the middle of town sits a squat brick building that is changing the face of Deary for the better. Originally a Ford dealership in the early 1900s, it had been neglected for many decades as a storage catch-all for auto junk. If you talk to folks in Deary now, they remember their parents and grandparents talking about the shiny Model Ts in the window.

In some ways, the building hasn’t changed much. It has the same brick exterior, original tin tile ceiling and the original hardwood floors, complete with cork hole indents from the spiked boots of yesteryear’s loggers and black oil stains from the auto showroom floor.

What’s changed is that now instead of a crumbling storage yard, the building hosts two thriving food businesses: Brush Creek Creamery and Pie Safe Bakery, the latter named for the building’s original brick walk-in safe, now converted into a wood oven used for pizzas and bread. The companies share the space for their pastries, wood-fired pizzas and cheesemaking facilities. It’s also a storefront for locally made wares and locally sourced foods, such as hand-carved wooden canoes, grass-fed beef, hand-woven scarves, quilts and fresh jams, jellies and pastas. Pie Safe Bakery is visited by folks from all over the Inland Northwest, and Brush Creek’s award-winning cheeses are coveted and shipped to gourmet cheese shops in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Dallas and more.

To say this successful undertaking in Deary is surprising is an understatement. Yet talking to Pie Safe Bakery’s John French it seems perfectly natural. The two businesses, owned by family friends, purchased the Deary facility together. They had both been selling at the Moscow Farmers Market and other small venues and didn’t have the funds to buy a space in Moscow or any of the “bigger” cities. In addition, Brush Creek Farm, which produces roughly 600 gallons of milk per week for the Creamery, is located in Deary. The large warehouse space was intended to give the businesses room to grow, but when the National Cheese Society caught wind of Brush Creek, the awards started pouring in—five first-place ribbons so far—and growth was fast.

“We’re not those crazy North Idaho ‘survivalist’ types you hear about,” says French with an easy smile. “We just believe that folks need to get back to the basics.” It’s this attitude that keeps the chocolate-covered cream puffs irresistible and the Orchard Blue cheese in small, quality batches. “We don’t aim to be a large cheese factory,” he says.

The team’s focus on quality creates a waitlist of customers eager to dine on Pie Safe’s monthly pre-fixe dinners sourced from Brush Creek Farms and other local vendors and keeps national cheese connoisseurs eagerly awaiting the next batch of Brush Creek’s insanely good labneh (a Middle Eastern condiment made with fresh, thickened yogurt that Brush Creek then marinates in olive oil with garlic, herbs and spices) and other products. Moreover, the team is giving the town of Deary an increase of stop-ins instead of drive-bys. According to French, there are lots of folks who come through Deary for hiking or huckleberry picking and stop in at Pie Safe for lunch afterwards.

“We’re able to employ eight full time, and Brush Creek has four full-time employees,” says French. In a tiny town where the average drive to work is 32 miles, this is notable, especially given the companies’ projected growth. “Our monthly dinners seat 80,” says French, “and we have a waiting list almost every time.”

At the retail front on 1st and Main, they offer baking and cheesemaking classes, along with courses on canning, preserving and sewing. They are looking to expand to offer classes in blacksmithing, woodworking and weaving, although they don’t have enough space at present. DIYers from Moscow, Lewiston, Portland and Seattle have joined the classes.

“Deary has far exceeded expectations of the business taking off,” says French. So what’s next for the enterprising family friends? “Larger cheesemaking facilities, a small boutique hotel,” lists French off the top of his head. The team is excited to branch out, and the town of Deary, along with cheese lovers across the country, will benefit from it. 

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