November 14th, 2017

Tiny Travels: The Five People You Meet in McMinnville

I say it every time I meet someone new in this small wine country town with a name that sounds like it’s from a different century:

There are only five people to meet in McMinnville.

I say five people not to minimize the contributions of the thousands that live here but to show the impact of small town living on its inhabitants. You can meet five people and feel like you understand a place, and that those five people probably connect you to the other 33,000.

Small town travel is different. Given just a few days, you start to feel like part of the wallpaper. You start seeing the same faces passing you on the street, you already know the barista by name, and you are going back to that cozy restaurant for breakfast because it’s already your favorite.

With small town travel, you don’t feel compelled to check items and places off a list. It is a state of being, of stepping into a lifestyle that feels maybe a bit slower, and definitely a whole lot more connected.

Everyone’s list will look different, but here are my Five People:

Tiny TravelsThe Winemaker

Winemakers aren’t hard to find in this town — there are twelve tasting rooms on 3rd Street alone. But it never ceases to amaze me that you can meet a winemaker like Rob Stuart of R. Stuart & Co. Winery at one of the winery’s sumptuous food events and then the next day run into him again at the Grain Station Brew Works grabbing a lager at an outdoor beer garden.

The Foodie

Not at all a rare bird McMinnville, the award-winning chefs are everywhere if you pay attention. It might be Carmen Pierano of Pierano & Daughters picking up vegetables at the local CSA, or maybe Emily Howard, owner of Thistle, hanging out on Evans Street before serving you the meal of your life. It might be Jesse Kincheloe of Valley Commissary who seems to befriend every diner who comes into his restaurant in the Pinot District. The bar for food here is very high.

The Local Celebrity

The other night I was out with a friend staying at the Hotel Oregon, and he just happened to be staying in “Nick’s Room,” the 4th floor room dedicated to Nick Pierano, the founder of James Beard award-winning Nick’s Italian Café. We took pictures with a mural of his face on the west wall of the room. Then we went down to Nick’s Backroom bar behind the eponymous restaurant (now owned by his daughter, Carmen), and took some pictures with the actual Nick.

The Shopkeeper

As a child, we used to play this game with my siblings where each of us owned a shop, and had to pick a day of the week to shop at the other shops. This is exactly how it works in McMinnville. It’s a place made for strolling. So if you encounter a shop that is closed, chances are good that you’ll meet your own personal Mr. Hooper at one of the other shops. Mine is Sylla McClellan, who owns two downtown charmers, Third Street Books and Yamhill Valley Dry Goods. With people like this, small towns start to feel like a circle of love.

The Townie

I have my favorite McMinnville townies — the people who seem to be everywhere, who you pass walking Third Street, see at the grocery store, you seem them having breakfast at Community Plate, you run into them at night at the Bitter Monk. I’m talking about the people who seem to spend 100% of their waking hours in downtown McMinnville. For me, this is McMinnville City Club President Zack Geary. Sometimes it feels like there is a blip in the Matrix. Didn’t I just pass that guy? Yes, I did.

Indeed, there are only five people you meet in McMinnville, and once you’ve met all five, you are very close to situating yourself in the heart of this place.

It may take a weekend, it may only take an afternoon, but it will happen.

Who are your five people you meet in McMinnville? Who knows, the next townie might be you!


Follow Emily Grosvenor on Twitter @emilygrosvenor or visit her at her online home at