Obie's owner serves up fun

Marla Ciesiel, the owner of Obie's Express in Hermiston, makes an iced coffee drink while working at the shop Monday.<br><I>Staff photo by E.J. Harris

For many people, the first person they want to see on their way to work in the morning is Marla Ciesiel.

The owner/manager of Obie's Express, Ciesiel makes a living out of giving people what they want. Her business used to be about lunch - its original name was Obie's Hoagies - but now it focuses on coffee drinks, a shift that apparently tapped a wellspring of desire. Almost every morning a line of vehicles stretches back from her drive-up window.

Serving coffee is the same as serving sandwiches, Ciesiel said, in that, like clockwork, pretty much the same people come in every day and order the same thing. Those people are what makes the job interesting.

"It's a lot more fun than I thought it would be," Ciesiel said. "It turns out to be more about the customers. When you've been in business for a long time, they get to be family."

Ciesiel has been in business for so long - 18 years - that it seems the whole town is her family. Her customers followed her from Main Street, where Obie's Hoagies began, to north Highway 395, next to the old Sentry Market, to a storefront in the new building after Sentry's was torn down, to Obie's current location.

Although Obie's Express still sells hoagies, the business is streamlined, with a smaller menu and fewer employees. The espresso side of the business has inspired a cafe-like atmosphere, with customers hanging out and talking or browsing the Internet on the free computer.

Part of Obie's appeal is the fun the employees always seem to be having. Shannon Payne, who has worked at Obie's for more than two years, said hanging out with her co-workers and customers is something she's grown to love.

"You get to know them on a one-on-one basis," she said. "It becomes personal rather than just a job."

Prior to starting the shop with her ex-husband, Ciesiel worked in grocery stores, a veterinarian's office and in a sub shop. She and her ex felt starting their own business was something they could do, she said.

"Hermiston looked like a place with opportunity," Ciesiel said.

Obie's was a success, but after having two children, mixing business and family was not always easy. Ciesiel and her husband set up a nursery in the back of the shop for their kids, Hailey and Jye.

"You're always at work - when someone calls in sick or something, you have to be there," she said.

Now that she's a single mom of two teenagers, Ciesiel said it's easier to juggle her roles. Recently, she hired Hailey to work behind the counter at Obie's.

Hailey, now 16, used to sit in a swing next to the kitchen at Obie's Hoagies when she was a baby.

"That's when you know you're really, truly a mom and pop operation," Ciesiel said with a laugh.

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