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All in the family

After conducting a global search for a buyer, the owners of Callahan's Mountain Lodge looked closer to home, ultimately keeping it in the family.

Ron and Donna Bergquist are handing over the lodge to Donna's younger sister, Jennifer, and her husband, Tim Self, in what they anticipate to be a gradual transition over the next few years. Jennifer introduced Donna to Ron in the early 1990s. Tim grew up on a horse ranch before turning his interests to marketing and software before most recently managing a horse boarding farm in Lake Oswego. 

The search for a successor couldn't have turned out better, said Donna Bergquist as she sat on the patio, jays and hummingbirds flitting about.

"With the energy and professional background they both have, we believe the business will definitely increase in revenue, in size and recognition," she said.

In spring 2014, the Bergquists put the restaurant, lodge and surrounding forest acreage on the block for $5 million, listing the property with Sotheby's International. It stayed on the market for a year before the Selfs stepped forward.

"We chose Sotheby's because we thought the property needed a worldwide audience," Bergquist said. "We didn't necessarily think it would sell to a proprietor or interest in Southern Oregon. We had interest expressed by California corporations, Seattle suits, foreigners, none of whom we felt qualified as having the heart for the family operation."

The prospect of a management team unraveling decades of family influences didn't sit well with the Bergquists. 

"It was strictly business," she said. "We were discouraged."

The outlook changed in rapid fashion when the Selfs came down on Easter weekend shortly after learning the horse farm where Tim worked was selling. The prospect of operating Callahan's appealed on multiple levels.

"Just looking at the numbers, he could see there was exponential opportunity to grow the business," Bergquist said. "If we were sitting at 80 percent occupancy and the windows for development were closed, I know they would've felt differently about stepping up."

The founding Callahan family raised its sons at the business and put them through college, she said. Bergquist's daughter Anna Braje began working at the restaurant when she was 10 and still returns to help out on holidays and for big events.

"When we fantasized about the new owner taking over, we said it was going to be a couple in their mid-40s, with children who could grow up in the business," Bergquist said. "A couple just like this before they ever raised their hand."

There remains plenty to develop in and around the lodge. When Callahan's was rebuilt following a 2006 fire that reduced the entire operation to ashes, the Bergquists received approval for four additional guest rooms in the adjacent home, nine cabins and a campground on 22 acres across Old Highway 99. 

"There are very few campgrounds on the I-5 corridor," she said.

One of the opportunities Tim Self saw when sizing up Callahan's was that very few people know how to dig a ditch and Google keywords at the same time.

"It's a strange combination of experiences and abilities. I know how to set up a marketing campaign, how to muck a stall and pound a nail. Those things come into play when you're at a mountain lodge."

After leaving Oregon State University in the early 1980s, Tim Self landed in real estate long enough to sell a house to a software developer who launched him into a career in the tech world.

"The Internet was just starting," he said. "I was the salesperson marketing everything in a three-person operation before we became a 15-person operation. I spent a lot of time in relationship marketing, in social media and network, which plays into the way the restaurant and hotel business works nowadays."

He functions as the nighttime service manager, giving him an opportunity to talk with dinner guests.

"We know that we're the destination place for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, but we're not the destination place for the I-5 traveler, and that's where marketing skills come into play," Self said. "On a Wednesday night, we're not competing for anniversaries and birthdays, we're competing for the I-5 traveler. One of the huge opportunities we have is how to compete with Exit 14 in Ashland and that traveler."

Despite being 16 years younger than Donna, Jennifer has been close to her sister. Since introducing her sister to Ron in 1992, she has helped out at the lodge from time to time, so there are fewer mysteries involved than an outsider would've encountered.

"Tim and I work well together on projects. Sometimes it's a little bit of marriage therapy, but we generally get through it," she said. "We want to do something in life that keeps us together.

"The one thing about this business is that it's dear to people's heart. When the place burned down, the amount of calls and cards that came in and people begging for a rebuild. You had to rebuild something that was so special to so many people. It made me sad to think that someone would come in and change that and change the feel. 

"I knew it was the right choice when I sat down with my children and told them, 'I have some news for you.' They looked right at me, and told me, 'You and Tim are taking over the lodge.'"

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/EconomicEdge.

Tim and Jennifer Self will be the new owners of Callahan's Mountain Lodge. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
After putting their family-owned lodge up for sale in 2014, the owners of Callahan's Mountain Lodge have decided to keep the operation in the family. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch