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Ashland businesswoman finds a niche

ASHLAND ­ Susan Powell's business survival is based on products thathave to be a lot better than her timing.

After several years of working in Ashland restaurants, she concludedthat Indian cuisine would be a good niche for Ashland. But before she couldget started, Five Rivers restaurant leaped into that niche.

So she nudged her niche toward packaged Indian and Mediterranean cuisine,opening Global Pantry and Pilaf restaurant last September on Calle Guanajuato,behind the Ashland Plaza.

Her operation turned to soup on New Year's Day, as floods washed outthe creekside site. She regrouped and reopened in March.

Global Pantry specializes in packaged grains and quick-cooking legumeswith dehydrated vegetables and seasoning packets.

It's pantry-based cooking instead of recipe-based cooking,she explained. With these mixes, you just go to your garden or refrigeratorinstead of the store.

About a dozen are available now, including such items as Tahari (spicyrice and potatoes with carrots, peas and peppers), fragrant pullao (Basmatirice, sweet spices, raisins and veggies), Pakora mix (hot and spicy potatofritter batter), spiced chai, pistachio pilaf and Parmesan polenta.

Powell was a teacher in Humboldt County, Calif. before moving north toAshland in 1985. She took classes to obtain an Oregon teaching certificateand worked as a substitute.

But I was always interested in food, she said. I firstlearned to cook in San Diego, where you could get a lot of good seafoodand Mexican food. Other people read novels; I read cookbooks.

International cuisine has always appealed to her, even if the exoticspices weren't popular with her family, she added.

Pilaf is open for indoor and creekside dining from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.Tuesdays through Sundays.

This is my test kitchen, she said. I play with recipesand try them out on a discriminating clientele here in Ashland.

Her products are distributed in the Rogue Valley by Beardsley's FineFoods and she's getting some help in marketing Global Pantry products beyondthe Rogue Valley.

Eight people work at Global Pantry and Pilaf. Powell said she wants tokeep employing local people and operating at the human level.

Right now the restaurant is the tail wagging the dog, shesaid. It's funny how a business will evolve and take on a life ofits own.

Powell is eager to apply technology to her business.

I couldn't wait to get a page on the Internet, she said.She also wants to post a video menu that lists specials as they're available,just as airports post arrivals and departures.

But she is also conscious of keeping the products hand-made and local.

Food is really interesting and the intersection between food andculture is really interesting, she said.

She augments her packaged food with cultural tidbits: poems, stories,myths, quotes and trivia.

I call them `munchies for the mind,' she said. It'salmost like the toy in the bottom of the Crackerjacks.

Susan Powell, right, discuss food preperation with Tera Couchman in the kithen of Global Pantry and Pilaf in downtown Ashland on Wednesday. - Photo by Andy Atkinson</P