On May 17, 2018, a public-works crew from the city of Kent in southern King County installs a new street sign that renames a section of South 238th Street as Oberto Drive. The renamed section runs from West Valley Highway to the roadway's easternmost point, ending at the Oberto Brands headquarters at what is now 7060 Oberto Drive. The street renaming, approved by the Kent City Council the previous fall, kicks off the 100th-anniversary year of Oberto Brands, the iconic, yet quirky, Northwest brand that is a global leader in producing jerky, pepperoni, and other smoked meats. Company chairman emeritus Art Oberto (b. 1927), whose father Constantino Oberto (1889-1943) founded the company in 1918, witnesses the street renaming along with the city's mayor, Dana Ralph, and Oberto employees.
Oberto Sausage Company: The Early Years
Oberto Brands had its beginnings in South Seattle. In 1918, Italian immigrant Constantino Oberto, who had moved to Seattle from the Piedmont region of northern Italy, began to produce and sell hand-made sausages using traditional family recipes. The Oberto Sausage Company was born and soon Constantino and his uncle opened a production facility at 1326 Dearborn Avenue in Seattle.
In 1943, Constantino Oberto died unexpectedly, leaving his family -- wife Antonietta, son Art, and daughter Irma -- with about $10,000 in gambling debts. Antonietta and Art Oberto took over the sausage production, determined to keep the business afloat, even though relatives and family friends encouraged them to sell it.
Art Oberto's hard work, quirky marketing stunts, and innovative products struck a chord with Northwest consumers and the company began to grow. By 1954, the Oberto Sausage Company had expanded sufficiently to warrant a larger production plant, and Art moved the business to 1715 Rainier Avenue in an area once known as "Garlic Gulch" for its preponderance of Italian immigrant families.
From Family Home to Company Outlet
The Rainier Avenue location was a small, one-story building. Built in 1912 primarily of brick, the building's front façade was characterized by cut stone laid along the foundation line. Before it became a sausage factory, it housed an upholstery business and later a real estate agency.
With every dollar tight, Art and his new bride Dorothy Vennetti (1934-2013) -- they married in 1954 -- chose to build a small home attached to the side of the factory on Rainier Avenue, which was the company's headquarters and production plant from 1954 until 1978, when Oberto Brands moved its headquarters to South 238th Street in Kent.
After the headquarters moved to Kent, the Rainier site transitioned to become a factory-outlet store. As of 2018, customers could stop in seven days a week to find discounted items on shelves teeming with products. Popular sale items included beef, pork, and turkey jerky, chicken strips, pepperoni sticks, and jerky varieties flavored with teriyaki, barbeque seasoning, and peppercorn.
Continued Product Innovation
In 1964, after much in-home experimentation, Art Oberto perfected what was to become his top seller, beef jerky. The product became an instant success and the company quickly doubled in size. In 2018, a Seattle Times article said of the company:
"Its main Oberto brand is iconic, particularly around the Puget Sound region, where the red, green and white logo has long graced the hulls of hydroplanes on Lake Washington. It is also one of the most recognized brands on the jerky market, trailing only Slim Jim and market leader Jack Link's" (Romano).
By 1997, Oberto Brands had outgrown the Kent plant and the company built a new 100,000-square-foot facility on the same site. The building served as Oberto's production, packaging and distribution center.
In May 2018, Oberto Brands announced its sale to Premium Brand Holdings, a Canadian food conglomerate based in British Columbia, for approximately $188 million. Premium Brands assured employees and city officials alike that the company would continue to be based in Kent. Along with the sale came a name change: Oberto Brands would be known as Oberto Snacks Inc.
In a May 31, 2018, corporate press release, chairman emeritus Art Oberto cited how proud his family was to have built and run Oberto for the past century. "The sale of our business to Premium Brands not only ensures that its culture and values will be honored, but it will position Oberto for another 100 years of success. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of our consumers, customers, employees, and suppliers for their support over the years" (Oberto Brands Sale Closes ...").
Renaming a City Street
The previous fall, as the company's 100th anniversary approached, Oberto officials had raised the possibility of renaming the street where the headquarters had been located since 1978. At a Kent city council meeting on November 21, 2017, Steve Haft, senior vice president of human resources at Oberto Brands, made a presentation outlining Oberto's 100-year history and milestones, beginning with its 1918 founding through its more recent history in Kent. To kick off the company's upcoming centennial year, Haft asked that Kent officials rename the street on which the Oberto headquarters was located to Oberto Drive.
After the presentation, councilmembers took turns praising Oberto Brands and its contributions to Kent. Councilmember Dana Ralph, who had won election earlier that month to become Kent's next mayor in 2018, noted that the snack-food giant was instrumental in creating greater visibility for Kent around the world. She mentioned how gift bags filled with Oberto products are given to foreign-exchange students who study in Kent and that one Japanese student had to buy an extra suitcase to take home all the snack-meat products he purchased.
At the end of Haft's presentation, the council voted unanimously to pass City Resolution No. 1951, which renamed South 238th Street as Oberto Drive. The Oberto headquarters sits at the eastern terminus of this roadway at 7060 Oberto Drive, just east of the West Valley Highway. The company paid the cost of changing the street sign. City workers installed the new sign on Thursday, May 17, 2018, at a ceremony attended by Mayor Ralph, Art Oberto, Oberto Brands CEO Tom Hernquist, and company employees.
In addition to the street renaming, Oberto Brands planned to celebrate its 100th-anniversary year with special products and promotions, including the appearance of the popular Oberto-sponsored hydroplane, called the Oh Boy! Oberto, at the 2018 Seafair celebration.