Loleta Cheese Factory’s owners are not giving up, even as a half-million dollars of debt threatens to sink the business by Friday, a reality that has prompted input from local and national representatives.
In a video posted to social media on Wednesday, the factory’s owners asked the public to call on Umpqua Bank — which plans to auction off the factory’s property — and ask the bank to hold off on foreclosure.
Factory founder Bob Laffranchi and his daughter, Michelle, take turns on video asking the community to call bank Vice President Debbie Fish, though they caution the public not to harass bank representatives.
“We want our employees back at work,” Bob Laffranchi says in the video. “We want the cheese being made. There are jobs here.”
As the Friday auction looms, North Coast U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) has authored a letter to the bank making a similar plea.
“An immediate foreclosure of the Loleta Cheese Factory building would have long-term consequences to the region,” Huffman writes in the letter.
“I ask that you consider working toward a mutual solution that avoids these consequences — including that you give full and fair consideration to postponing the auction, consistent with applicable law, rules and regulations,” the congressman adds.
The owners say Umpqua Bank raised the factory’s interest rates on the property’s mortgage loan, spiking monthly payments by several thousand dollars. When that happened, Bob Laffranchi admits he quickly fell behind on payments, but wants the bank to consider the factory’s employees before forcing the business to shut down.
Michelle Laffranchi further said in the video that North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire has sent a letter to the bank making a similar request. Humboldt County staff have reached out about the factory, 1st District Supervisor Rex Bohn told the Times-Standard on Monday.
For now, the factory remains open, but it hasn’t produced cheese in months and is selling off what’s left of its limited supply.
“Bring back these 15 employees that are losing their jobs at Christmas!” Michelle Laffranchi says in the video. “Everyone talks about wanting to bring jobs to Humboldt County — well, we have them!”
Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.