B.S. Mechanical Engineering ’69
San Luis Sourdough
San Luis Obispo, California
David West didn’t see a future for himself on the land where his father raised potatoes and alfalfa in the southern Oregon farming community of Merrill. But he did love cars, so he headed to Oregon State to complete a degree in mechanical engineering, focusing on the discipline’s automotive element.
“I was fascinated by mechanics,” says West. “Oregon State offered me everything I wanted — a great engineering school and an opportunity to stay in state.”
After graduating, West interviewed with Ford Motor Company, but decided against living in Detroit. Instead, he took a job with Union Oil in southern California as a research engineer. “Without my education, I would never have had that opportunity,” he says. “I was involved in technical training and research and everything related directly back to my education at OSU.”
After living in the Los Angeles basin for 10 years, West and his family decided they didn’t want to spend their lives in the big city. “I wanted to get into business for myself, something where I could control my own destiny,” he says. “I bought an automobile salvage business in San Luis Obispo on California’s central coast.”
The business did well, but his wife’s business was doing better. Linda “Charlie” McFall West (OSU ’69) had started a small bakery called San Luis Sourdough. Within a year, business was booming and, seeing its potential, she pulled her husband’s energies full-time into the bakery business. He designed a 25,000 square foot bakery, giving consideration to workflow, equipment needs, and purchasing.
“My engineering background really helped me,” says West.
Three years after its startup, San Luis Sourdough was named the Small Business Administration’s Small Business of the Year for California. Six years later, the Wests’ company was named the national intermediate wholesale bakery of the year by their trade association.
The Wests sold the company to Earthgrains in 1998. By that time, 125 employees were producing 60,000 loaves of sourdough bread a day.
“I am proud that we were able to contribute to society and the economy and produce a healthy, natural food product that people wanted,” says West. “Anyone getting into engineering needs to keep all the doors open, because you never know where the path is going to lead. It could be something you never dream would be an opportunity.”