Brandt Koo has lived all around the world, but he said coming to Hermiston has made him realize one key truth.
“People around the world are kind of just ... people,” he said. “Everyone thinks it’s better somewhere else. I’ve heard the same thing everywhere I’ve lived — there’s nothing to do at night. They say that in small towns, and in L.A.”
But the southern California native has been happy with his move to Hermiston so far. He moved to the area in March with his family, to assume ownership of the 11th Street Market. Though they’ve maintained most of the store’s products and services, they’ve expanded the food options and now have a full kitchen, where they make deli items as well as teriyaki chicken.
He’s noticed that unlike many convenience stores, customers tend to use theirs more like a community market.
“It’s nice running a store — you get to meet everyone,” he said. “We’re kind of a hybrid here. Usually in larger places, convenience stores get a lot of traffic. Here, 80 percent of our customers are the same people, locals.”
He attributed that to the location of the store, not on the main road but tucked back on the edge of town.
Koo’s wife, Michelle Quincena, and their children, Kyle, 6, and Christopher, 3, have adjusted well to Hermiston. Kyle is in first grade at Rocky Heights, and Christopher is in preschool. Michelle and Koo’s parents, who are visiting, help out in the kitchen of the store.
Though the first year of running a store doesn’t allow for much free time or travel, Koo said they enjoy taking their children to the local parks.
“It’s more pedestrian-friendly than the coast,” he said. “My parents walk up the Butte every day.”
Though many people in his family, and his wife’s, have operated convenience stores, it was one job Koo had never done. Instead, he’d spent years traveling and working in different fields. Most recently, he lived in Newport and owned a commercial fishing boat, harvesting hagfish. That industry has a lot of ups and downs, he said, and it’s hard to succeed.
“We heard about the market for sale out here through family friends,” he said. After coming to Hermiston to check out the community, they decided they could raise their family here, and moved to the area.
But Koo’s life and career has spanned several industries and continents.
He ran a clothing factory in Ecuador, and lived in Mexico for about a year. He studied business in France, taught in South Korea, and then went to the Philippines. There, he met his wife, and their first son was born. Koo is of Korean descent. He and his wife talk to their children about their heritage.
“Kyle, what are you?” He asked his son, who was sitting on his lap and watching a video.
“Half Korean, half Filipino, and fully percent American,” the six-year old said.
He said for him and his family, Hermiston is the ideal size, with the amenities of a larger city but the pace of a smaller one.
“I’ve lived in metropolises, with hundreds of miles of paved roads,” he said. “And it all kind of looks the same. I’ve lived in really small towns — Neah Bay, Clallam Bay.”
Those places were a bit too small, he said, especially lacking in their ability to draw young people.
But he said there have been similarities in every place he’s lived.
“I had to travel around the world to learn that essential fact,” he said. “If you just want to live a nice life, you can do it anywhere.”