Bernards are on the cutting-edge in Ashland
Editor's note: Community Builder is a periodic Q&A series providing perspectives from local people who have been involved in significant change in Southern Oregon. Today's conversation is with Dave Bernard, the past owner and CEO of Darex LLC, and owner, with his wife, Marge, of Morning Glory restaurant.
Q: Tell us about your family company, Darex.
Dave: Darex makes sharpening equipment for industry; anything from sharpeners for small machine shops to major manufacturers such as Boeing. We started in Chicago and moved to Ashland in 1979. Darex makes industrial tools that require sophisticated machining. We eventually had a huge machine shop with sophisticated equipment and a highly trained staff.
Q: How did the development of the Drill Doctor product change your business?
Dave: Drill Doctor was developed in 1996 as a drill sharpener intended for homeowners and small businesses. We created a separate company and brought in Hank O’Dougherty to run Drill Doctor. Gary Varney had been working in our shop since 1985. He took over managing Darex, and I became the CEO of both. It’s gone through several organizational changes since then.
Q: And now the company is Work Sharp?
Dave: We came out with a sharpener for chisels, that evolved into a knife sharpener. Work Sharp became our primary product. Our oldest son, Matthew, became CEO several years ago and is now the owner. He didn't want to continue the industrial part of Darex anymore, so he ended up selling it to Gary. Darex is now located in Medford and is independent from us. We renamed our company Work Sharp.
Q: How did your family get involved in machining and industrial sharpening?
Dave: In 1918, as part of World War I, the military was trying to figure out how to weld ships together. Looking for a job at the New Jersey shipyard, they suggested my grandfather go to welding school. He became one of the first welding engineers in the U.S. He has about 60 patents and designed the first welded tank. Tanks were riveted before that. The Germans had figured it out, and we were trying to catch up. He ended up working at the Pentagon.
At the end of World War II, my grandfather started Bernard Welding Company in Chicago. My dad joined him, and that grew into a substantial company. They sold it in 1970 and were looking for something else. As a big manufacturing company, they always had a need for sharp drills, and Dad saw an opportunity.
Q: How did you get involved in the family business?
Dave: I was at college in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Mostly partying. I came home in the middle of my sophomore year, and I said to Dad, "I'm wasting your money and my time. I should just take a year off, travel, and figure out what I want to do." His response was, "Well, I'm starting Darex to make industrial sharpeners, and I could use your help.”
Q: How did your business find Ashland?
Dave: I told Dad that I wanted to be involved in the family business, but I didn't want to live in Chicago. He responded, "You know what? I don't want to live in Chicago anymore either." At 20 years old, I drove around the country looking for a place to locate. Eugene was high on the list. We wanted a smallish town, away from a major metropolitan area, that had a college, and was under 200,000 population. After four days in Eugene, I decided that "it just wasn't it." I checked out Medford and Grants Pass. I drove to Ashland, and I stayed at that motel right there. (He points next door from Morning Glory.) Gloria Thorpe, was at the front desk.
"Hey, what's that over there, across the street,” I asked.
"Oh, that's Southern Oregon State."
I said, "Really? A college? What should I do while I’m in town?"
Gloria says, "Go downtown and walk through Lithia Park.”
Eureka, I found our place. My parents came out, my grandparents came out, my three sisters came out. We've all raised our kids here, and most of them have stayed. We’ve got grandkids now. Marge's parents live here, her sister and her two kids live here. We took over. We have about 40 family members at Thanksgiving.
Q: How did you get involved in ScienceWorks, building exhibits and as board president?
Dave: I met John and Sharon Javna at a party. John cornered me and talked my ear off about creating a science museum. John asked, “How are you at building exhibits?"
"We’ve got a whole machine shop, and our guys love to do this kind of stuff, so we could probably make science exhibits."
I considered it for a long time, and decided, "OK, I'm in, here’s a check, let’s get started.” Not long after that my dad and I moved into an empty space in the museum and started working on exhibits. John used to say we're three legs of stool, it wasn't going to happen without all of us, because we balanced each other, and John definitely needed balance. (Laughter) We loved building ScienceWorks.
Q: What’s the story behind the Darex Family Ice Rink, next to Lithia Park?
Dave: My wife, Marge, is from Detroit. We met in Kalamazoo, where she was in nursing school. Marge loves ice skating. The Darex building was located on about a third of our property. She always would say, "You should build an ice rink in that space." Mike Gibbs from Winchester Inn and I started talking about an ice rink in Ashland, but we both had too much to do. However, the idea was out there. Bow Seltzer called, "I heard you want to start an ice rink." Someone in his family developed roller-skating rinks and said they’d donate the ice skates. Then he found a portable ice rink. We ended up giving the lead gift in the fundraising. Bow said, "Well Dave, you get to name it." I said, "I got the perfect name: Bow … Darex.” There was deafening silence. We ended up calling it The Darex Family Ice Rink. Ashland Rotary paid for a roof, and now it is the Rotary Ice Rink.
Q: How did you get involved with music and the East Main Band?
Dave: I was in a rock band in high school, but I got involved in building a business and raising a family with Marge. I hardly touched my guitar for 30 years. Kids were raised, and with two friends, Mike Dadaos and Mike Gardiner, we started playing music together. "Huh, we sound pretty good." Instead of getting together to have a couple beers and play cards, we’d get together and play music. We’ve been playing together for 13 years. People started asking us to play, and then it got a little more serious when we started doing Camelot shows.
Q: How did you start writing “Spotlight” shows for the Camelot Theater?
Dave: Gayle Wilson was doing a show on Carol King. A part of the Carol King story involves James Taylor. Gayle called to ask if I wanted to audition. "Audition? I got to audition?" She said, "Can you play ‘You've Got a Friend?’" I sang it and she said, “OK, you’re in”. It started there. Next, I wrote the narration and sang for “Spotlight on James Taylor.” I’ve also written and performed spotlights on Kenny Rogers, The Eagles, and Credence Clearwater. I’m working on a Crosby, Stills and Nash show for the winter. It’s a lot of fun. I love the Camelot Theater. It’s an intimate setting, but no place for the performers to hide.
Q: You and Marge are now owners of Morning Glory restaurant.
Dave: Our younger son, Chad, went to college, but school was never his thing. He had worked in restaurants, from his sophomore year in high school, starting as the dishwasher. I asked him, "Why don't you come work at Darex. We'll move you around the company, join the leadership team and see if something fits?" He did that for two years and decided, "What I really want to do is be in a restaurant." So, he started working and found a small restaurant in Portland to buy. I helped him with the business side for the first few months. COVID hit and we remodeled and rebranded his restaurant. That gave us a sense of restaurants. I think restaurants are one of the hardest businesses. We heard that Patty was closing Morning Glory. We came to the restaurant at 7:45 one of the last mornings before it closed, there were already 50 people in line, and by the time it opened ... I counted 40 people behind us.
Q: So, Chad is involved in running Morning Glory?
Dave: No, Chad thinks we're nuts. Our other son, Matthew, thinks we're nuts too. Almost everybody says, "You are totally crazy, but I am really glad that you did this." We’ve had way more accolades from people for reviving Morning Glory than we ever did for the museum. I know a lot about business, just not so much about the restaurant business. I know how to manufacture stuff, market and sell stuff, employ people and build teams. That's what we do here, it's just different products. I have tried to figure out what the magic of Morning Glory is. Restaurant people tell me, "It's everything. It's the food, it's the place, it's the town, and it's not a chain.” It’s like Ashland, a combination of all the right stuff.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge that we face in Southern Oregon?
Dave: Regionally, I think it's fires. From our house I can look over at the city of Ashland against the hillside. It’s incredible how much more vegetation there is now. From when we arrived 42 years ago there are fewer visible lights at night because the vegetation blocks them. Our desire to preserve it is getting in the way of reason. There's so much fuel, and it's so dry. We hold our breath all summer long. How long can you do that?
Q: What are you most proud of?
Dave: I’m proud that Darex has been perennially recognized as one of the “best places to work in Oregon.” Living in Ashland has been a huge gift to our entire family. I’m proud to think that Marge and I and our extended family have been good for Ashland in return.
Steve Boyarsky is a retired educator and longtime resident of the Rogue Valley. He continues to be involved in educational and youth programs.
Dave Bernard Bio
Dave Bernard and his wife, Marge, are the owners of Morning Glory restaurant in Ashland. He is the past owner and CEO of Darex LLC. Dave and Marge have two adult sons, Matthew and Chad. Dave has been involved in many boards and commissions including:
• ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum (founder/chair)
• Ashland Airport Commission
• Ashland Planning Commission
• Ashland Chamber of Commerce Board
• Ashland Family YMCA Board
• Reach Family Institute Board (Chair)
• Ashland Rotary Board
• Oregon Community Foundation Advisory Board
• Ashland Community Hospital (chair)
• Britt Festival Board