▶️ Local agencies promote tourism season with caution; still expect visitors


With tourism season just around the corner, how is Bend being marketed to visitors during a pandemic?

“I think just looking at last summer it was proof that even with the pandemic going on, people still want to get out and get out in wide open spaces,” Mackenzie Ballard, Visit Central Oregon director of marketing said. “And that is something that we offer here.”

This time of year, Visit Central Oregon would typically be promoting travel to our area.

Because we’re still in a pandemic, the tourism agency is taking a different approach by encouraging tourists to simply plan.

“So we’re just trying to keep the destination top of mind for them with that “plan now” message,” Ballard said. “Keep us out there, but really just help them think of the future.”

And yes, other local tourism agencies also anticipate those visitors to come.

“People are going to come to Bend regardless,” Beau Eastes, Old Mill District marketing director said. “I mean we saw that last summer right?”

Even selling local events is tricky, Eastes says the Old Mill is waiting it out.

“Nobody really knows in the event industry what July, August are going to look like,” Eastes said. “You know anything that we publicize, we want to make sure whoever is doing it is doing it in a safe manner as well.”

Eastes says the Old Mill is keeping an eye on state guidance, but because restrictions could change every two weeks, this is the safest plan for now.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all to circle our wagons and make sure we’re doing things right by our community,” Eastes said. “Then when it’s ready to invite others from outside the community in, we’ll be ready to do that.”

▶️ Taste This: Jackaroo Pies

Amy Duda is originally from Australia, where meat pies are found everywhere.

While Duda does make meat pies fresh in Bend from her food cart, you now have the option to reach for a vegetarian Jackaroo Pie in the frozen aisle of Newport Avenue Market.

On this episode of Taste This, sponsored by Newport Avenue Market, Meghan Glova gives these convenient, savory pies a try.

▶️ Bend funeral home shares experiences with COVID deaths, restricted funerals


Over half a million Americans have died due to COVID-19.

Some of those deaths affect loved ones at the local level, including at least three families that made arrangements at Niswonger-Reynolds Funeral Home in Bend.

Funeral director apprentice Whitney Moore says this year has been especially difficult for families who lose someone from a long-term care facility.

“I feel like families have been a little bit disgruntled,” Moore said. “They couldn’t get in to spend the last remaining time with their loved ones.”

When it comes to planning a funeral, Moore says clients are understanding and willing to work with capacity limitations.

The funeral home offers to live stream services and can accommodate more guests during outdoor grave-side services.

“I think that it’s been a rough time for everybody and everybody’s kind of gotten tired of having to deal with all the restrictions,” Moore said. “But we haven’t really gotten much push-back.”

Moore says she treats every client the same, no matter how their loved one passed.

She just tries to be mindful of each individual experience.

“There’s some inconveniences that have been added,” Moore said. “But for the most part it’s the least we can do to keep everybody safe.”

▶️ Local restaurants talk indoor-dining benefits; improved revenue, happy staff


Even at a limited capacity, the ability to offer indoor dining seems to be benefitting local restaurants.

“It’s a lot different when you get the actual environment and you get to hear the music, sit down, and enjoy a hot meal,” Nick Stanitsas, Kefi Fast Fresh Mediterranean co-owner said. “It’s been great.”

“Eating outside when it’s windy and cold and rainy, it’s just not pleasant,” Sean Lampe, Immersion Brewing co-owner said. “I think people are appreciative that their food stays warm for a little bit longer than 30 seconds.”

Stanitsas says most of Kefi’s revenue still comes from take-out, but indoor dining has its perks.

“You can kind of up-sell sides of fries a little more because you don’t have to drive home with your side of fries and have them get soggy,” Stanitsas said. “So, there are certain things we weren’t selling as much of, now we can sell a little better.”

Immersion Brewing has also seen improvement from its outdoor-dining-only days.

“Nothing compared to this time before COVID,” Lampe said. “But, it has definitely been a lot more revenue coming in over the past week.”

Kefi has not had to limit staffing.

Immersion Brewing is at about 33% of the staff they had pre-pandemic.

However, one thing the employees of both restaurants have in common is the excitement to be back to somewhat-normal.

“The major thing that’s changed is just everyone’s attitude,” Stanitsas said. “I think everyone is a lot more happy and excited to be here. There’s a real energy in here, so I think people can actually experience that when they sit down.”

▶️ Zwickelmania goes virtual; local breweries gear up for couch-bound customers


Virtual brewery tours, panel discussions, and beer tastings all from the comfort of your couch.

That’s what this year’s Zwickelmania will look like.

The annual open-house event gives beer lovers a behind-the-scenes look into Oregon breweries.

“Compared to years past it’s going to look drastically different,” Michael “Curly” White, Wild Ride Brewing head brewer said. “Usually Zwickelmania is a time where everybody just piles into the brewery, comes and checks everything out, gets to talk to multiple brewers at a time, taste new beers, and gets to see a lot of the behind the scenes aspect of the brewery.”

“They’ll describe the tasting notes, how they made it, ingredients they use,” Valarie Doss, Bevel Brewing co-owner said. “So I think that’s the interactive part, but the brewery tours will just be posted throughout the day.”

Wild Ride Brewing in Redmond and Bevel Brewing in Bend are two Central Oregon locations that will be participating.

Both can agree that while the lack of in-person interaction isn’t ideal, the event is a great marketing opportunity.

“Because it’s statewide, we do get to share this with everybody,” Doss said. “Including the people that have never heard of Bevel or have never been to the brewery.”

“It’s still a way for us to kind of connect and get to talk to customers,” White said. “Even though we’re not there in the same building so to speak.”

The event is hosted by the Oregon Brewers Guild and everything will be posted to its Facebook page.

Because the event is all online, it’s tough to say how turnout will compare to previous years.

However, that doesn’t seem to be downing the spirits of some of our local breweries.

“We just wanted to make sure we’re still keeping in touch with the beer enthusiasts, the customers, and other brewers in general,” White said. “Just to let them know that we’re still here.”

▶️ Local venues, vendors handling fair share of rescheduled 2020 weddings


For many couples, 2020 was the year of rescheduled weddings.

Things still aren’t completely the same in 2021, but engaged couples are tired of waiting.

“They’re kind of starting to see the writing on the wall,” said Lindsay Borkowski, Sunriver Resort director of sales and marketing. “That their wedding of 200 people may not be a reality for them, even in 2021.”

“It’s a tough year,” added Brandon Sirstins, Brasada Ranch director of sales and marketing. “People didn’t stop getting engaged during the pandemic. I think you could argue that more people probably got engaged.”

Rearrangements and restrictions aren’t stopping many couples from celebrating their big day.

Borkowski says one venue, the Great Hall at Sunriver Resort is booked almost every Saturday for the rest of the year.

“More and more we’re seeing weddings that have been postponed going forward in 2021, deciding just to do it,” Borkowski said. “Just making sacrifices based on what we’re experiencing right now.”

For venues, it’s a good problem to have.

Sirstins says 80% of the couples who planned to have their wedding at Brasada Ranch in 2020 have stuck with them into the new year.

“We are completely booked out for 2021,” Sirstins said.

Bend Photographer Kayla Thorson says she had some wedding reschedules of her own, but overall, business has been great thanks to elopements.

“Most of my couples, especially locally, were like we just want to get married,” Thorson said. “We will get together with our friends and family later.”

That includes Portland couple Stacy Mann and Tony Chung, who will be eloping at Smith Rock State Park in March.

“It’s so hard to tell with COVID when things are going to be back to normal when things are going to open up,” Chung said. “When people are even going to be comfortable attending weddings.”

Couples, venues, and vendors are all making do, but in the end, there will be no shortage of local weddings in 2021.

▶️ Bend’s Little Caesars Lady receives local support after open heart surgery


You know her, you love her, and she has probably put a smile on your face at some point on the corner of 3rd Street and Reed Market Road.

Mary Barackman, better known as Bend’s “Little Caesars Lady,” has been promoting the franchise for nearly a decade by dancing and twirling her fake guitar outside.

You wouldn’t guess it from her attitude, but Barackman, has had a difficult couple of months.

“She had a full open heart surgery,” said Christina Belli, Barackman’s daughter. “They cut her sternum, they cut her open, and surgery took about four hours to do.”

Barackman had a heart valve replaced on Thursday and recovery has not been easy.

“Any movement hurts right now,” Belli said. “She’s having a hard time because she can’t do everything on her own right now.”

Between living across the country and the pandemic, Belli can’t take care of her mother once she’s out of the hospital.

Belli explained this to her mother’s fans over social media and they’re willing to help, expressing interest in meal trains and a GoFundMe if one becomes available.

“I want to be there, I want to help her and I can’t,” Belli said. “It means a lot that other people are helping when I can’t.”

Belli is looking into aftercare options and says a meal train should be started within the next couple of weeks.

“I told her all about the support on Facebook and I feel like that helps her a lot,” Belli said. “Knowing that everyone’s praying for her and is there for her.”

Belli says once her mother has recovered, she does plan to return dancing as Bend’s Little Caesars Lady.

Updates on Barackman’s health and ways to help will be posted on the Rock On, Bend Little Caesars Lady Facebook page.

▶️ Prineville mother frustrated with limited curriculum on Black History Month


What did you learn today?

That’s a question Prineville resident Amber Vandenack asks her 6th grade daughter every day after school.

But it’s what the 11-year-old Crook County Middle School student, who is black, wasn’t mentioning that stood out to Vandenack.

“Well, did you learn anything about Black History? Because it was February 1st the first day I asked,” Vandenack said. “She was like no, and I put it off a little bit. I said okay it’s only the first day, let’s give it a week and see how it goes.”

A week went by, Vandenack’s daughter still reported back nothing.

Vandenack then called the school and the superintendent, she was told that Black History Month is not part of the school’s curriculum and it’s up to teachers whether to discuss it.

“I was mad,” Vandenack said. “I cussed a few times.”

According to Jason Carr with the Crook County School District, students do learn about Black History.

“It is something that is covered,” Carr said. “It is something that we believe is important.”

However, there is not a single month of the curriculum devoted to Black History Month.

Assistant principal Marques Hase says this is because Crook County Middle School takes a “holistic” approach to Black history, incorporating it into lessons throughout the entire school year.

“We focus on Black History throughout the content throughout the year,” Marques Hase, assistant principal said. “Not specifically just Black History Month, just throughout the year.”

Vandenack says what frustrates her the most is that slavery and segregation is the bulk of the black history her daughter is learning.

“It breaks my heart that my daughter only hears the bad,” Vandenack said. “Doesn’t hear about the good things that African American and black people do.”

Since our conversation with Vandenack, she spoke with school district curriculum director Stacy Smith.

Smith is hoping the school district can find unique ways to celebrate Black History Month with more positive content.

“The school district is happy to partner with the family and weave in additional lessons that meet the request,” Carr said. “We value the opportunity to have an open conversation with our parents to ensure our schools are a welcoming and positive place for all of our students of color.”

▶️ Family, friends of victims frustrated with no arrests in 2 Bend murder cases


Two local, high-profile murder cases are still under investigation.

This includes a double homicide from August and an assault turned potential homicide from Christmas.

Natasha Newby and Ray Atkinson were found dead in their home in August.

Five months later, the couple’s homicide is under investigation by Bend Police.

On Sunday, Central Oregon Daily caught up with Josh Pardee protesting in downtown Bend.

Pardee was a close friend of the victims and is urging the District Attorney’s Office and Bend Police to get them justice.

“There could still definitely be a threat out here,” Pardee said. “Some of our people in our justice department need to get on it to put the rightful people behind bars and know that we’re safe at night.”

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said while there are suspects, it’s not enough to make an arrest.

“We’re not done with our investigation, we’re not done with our fact gathering,” Hummel said. “We don’t have enough evidence yet to file charges. If we did, we would have.”

It’s a similar story in the case of Daphne Killian-Banks.

The Bend mother was allegedly assaulted on Christmas and later died after being taken off life support.

“A few weeks ago there was an autopsy at the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office,” Hummel said. “We have some preliminary results from that, we don’t have the final results from the autopsy, so we’re waiting on that.”

Hummel says “it may be weeks, it won’t be months” for final autopsy results to become available.

Randall Kilby of Bend is the suspect in Killian-Banks’ case, he was arrested for assault and has since been released.

Hummel says there is not enough evidence yet to charge Kilby with murder.

Killian-Banks’ daughters, Rio and Laci Killian, are frustrated that current autopsy results and what they were told by their mother’s surgeon is not enough to hold Kilby.

“The surgeon specifically said that these injuries were not consistent with a fall,” Killian said. “How is that not enough in itself?”

Hummel says the Killian family is given weekly updates on their mother’s case by the District Attorney’s Office.

However, Laci Killian claims she has not been able to reach Hummel directly and was told he “would not speak about the case until it closed.”

Hummel said once there is enough evidence in both cases, the victims’ families will be the first to know.

“We want to give them closure,” Hummel said. “We’re doing everything we can.”