Umpqua Bank calls foreclosure of Loleta Cheese a ‘last resort’

Auction of building set for Friday

The Loleta Cheese Factory has seen an outpouring of community support since it announced it might be put up for auction Friday. (Ruth Schneider — The Times-Standard)
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Umpqua Bank has responded to local representatives who reached out to push back against the bank’s plans to auction off the Loleta Cheese Factory’s property amid unpaid mortgage loans.

The factory’s owners went public on Monday to try to save the cheese factory, a staple of Humboldt County’s dairy industry since 1982 that now stands in over a half-million dollars in mortgage debt.

Rallying to the factory’s plea, Rep. Jared Huffman, state Sen. Mike McGuire and Humboldt County economic development director Scott Adair all wrote letters requesting the bank postpone an auction of the factory scheduled for Friday.

In its response Thursday, the bank responds that foreclosure is the bank’s “last resort” — implying that the factory’s payment problems have lasted multiple years without a solution.

“We appreciate the concern of local leaders and have spoken with Representative Huffman’s office, as well as reached out to Mr. Adair to address his questions,” said Umpqua Bank spokesperson Kurt Heath, in the prepared statement.

“Umpqua works very hard to support customers through challenges, and foreclosure is the last resort only after all reasonable options have been exhausted. In this case, our efforts have spanned several years and many attempts to find a solution,” Heath continued. “We are committed to working with the local community and doing our part to ensure a proper transition of the property. We also remain committed to Humboldt County and continuing to support its businesses and communities.”

The owners of the business did not want to directly respond to the comments made by Umpqua.

After an outpouring of support from the Humboldt County community, operations were winding down at the cheese factory on Thursday.

“We sold our last piece of cheese out of our factory,” said Bob Laffranchi on Thursday evening, adding, “There’s still a lot of Loleta Cheese in the grocery stores.”

He’s not sure what the future may hold. Nor do they know if there are interested buyers locally who would allow them to continue to operate.

“There were people behind the scene working to find solutions,” Bob Laffranchi said.

What they do know is that they have a lot of property within the walls of the century-old building they moved into in 1981, said Bob Laffranchi’s daughter Michelle Laffranchi.

“We’re not just losing our business, we’re losing our home,” Michelle Laffranchi said, noting she lives in an apartment above the factory. “The equipment in the building does not come (with the building). Everything in the building belongs to my parents. They will have to move it all.”

Bob Laffranchi admits he is looking at options including building a new cheese factory elsewhere or doing consulting work. He’s also considering retirement.

“Maybe it’s my turn to go off into the sunset,” he said.

But he added he tries to stay positive about the situation.

“Right now may seem a little bit dark, but the sun is going to come up tomorrow morning,” he said. “We are hoping something very positive happens. The folks in Humboldt County really do love us.”

The auction is set to take place Friday at the courthouse, Michelle Laffranchi said. But the store will also be open at 9 a.m., serving coffee, she said.

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504. 

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