Tim Cowan , the new Morro Bay Chamber board president, in front of his restaurant Pizza Port.
Photo by Judy Salamacha
Anyone who knows Tim Cowen knows he loves to find a good business investment. Although it seems a natural transition that Cowen would take over leadership of the 2021 Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors from outgoing chair (but incoming treasurer), Steve Peck, it took an “aha moment” for him to become an active member.
He credits Cyndee Edwards, owner of The Skin Shop and longtime Morro Bay Chamber Board Chair for helping him understand that membership was the right vehicle to build a stronger business climate.
“I believe small business needs a voice — a strong voice,” Cowen said. “Together we need to build on our common ideas for Morro Bay’s future to make them happen. Voices are louder when numbers are larger — when a diverse, but vocal, group of like-minded community members focus intentionally on building a friendly place for all business to thrive.”
Cowen intends to continue efforts currently underway by the chamber board and Executive Director Erica Crawford. He believes the partnership with City leadership will grow stronger as they continue to network local and regional relationships that will benefit business development in Morro Bay.
“As someone who grew up in Morro Bay, I see so much opportunity.” Cowen hopes the chamber will continue to be that collective voice to maintain community integrity while working to support current and future businesses. “If we’re all in this together then it is time for all of us to invest whatever time and funding we can spare to make our chamber inclusive, engaged and participating. When we speak with one voice we can better help each other.”
Cowen recognized Morro Bay’s assets early in life.
“When I was eight my family made the decision to move to the Central Coast from San Clemente mostly for my health. I had asthma and smog was getting worse.” His dad had grown up in Arroyo Grande so knew the area. “I remember seeing the Stacks for the first time. I felt both fear and excitement. Fear of change and finding new friends. My sister and I quickly realized the freedom Morro Bay offered. We could safely go anywhere.”
Cowen also found instant love when his dad introduced him to surfing and fishing. His mother would say, “You never come home dry.”
His schooling was all local, including Cuesta College, but his real education was on the job. Work also fed his joyful times on a surfboard or in a boat. He delivered newspapers for the Tribune and Sun Bulletin. At age twelve, he washed dishes at Pizza Port, the business he would later own. At thirteen, he began almost 30 years in retail by sweeping floors at Wavelengths across from City Park. As Wavelengths grew he worked his way up to manage the business during the last fifteen of the 26 years he was with the company.
“I credit Mike and Phyllis Hischier for teaching me about business and so much more.” Cowen said.
Being on the water continued to be an adult passion. He loved working for Harbor Patrol Master Eric Endersby. “About 2000, I joined the ranks of the Morro Bay Harbor Reserves at the same time as Becca Kelly [currently a Harbor Patrol supervisor].”
It was a Wavelengths customer that inspired him that investing in a local business could become a decent retirement plan, but Cowen was savvy enough to take a deep dive to see if restaurant ownership was a good fit. For months he balanced life between careers at Wavelengths, Harbor Reserves, and Pizza Port. He officially became a small business owner in 2005 and by 2006 he had moved on from Wavelengths and the Harbor Reserves.
Then another retail business opportunity enticed him in 2006, Morro Bay Surf Shop. The partnership with Nathan Ditmore and Anthony Randazzo was a successful enough investment to expand to SLO, however inflation attacked the entire marketplace and the business closed in 2010.
Cowen was happy he could immerse himself in his back-up plan as general manager of Pizza Port. “It was a tough time for most businesses. But like today [during COVID-19], we learn to survive by reinventing ourselves.”
He regularly implements those best business practices he’s learned over the years. “I call it organic marketing. It’s all relationship driven —learning our customers wants and working with other businesses to stay alive and plan to build a better business climate.”
And, since becoming a real estate associate at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, he believes timing has never been better to build that better business climate. “Our lifestyle in Morro Bay has been discovered.”
It was another business associate, who planted the seed for him to move from general manager to small business owner and mentor to future business owners.
“Burt Caldwell said ‘When you learn to work on the business, not in the business, it will evolve to a different level.’ I was ready to move beyond the day-to-day (at Pizza Port) knowing I could offer a living wage opportunity for the right person. I looked for a long time and finally found Melissa Davis to take over as general manager. She was doing a great job until COVID forced her to choose family first. She needed to home-school her daughter.”
Currently, Sarah Genevro and Courtney Longis share management duties as his daytime and night managers. “I like to find individuals who are interested in learning how to run a business, but already understand customer relations. That’s the harder skill to teach.”
Cowen hopes all of Morro Bay will join the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce’s Zoom celebration on February 12 at 5 p.m. As he accepts the chairmanship role, he plans to challenge his new board team to move forward in 2021 and thank fellow board members for their service, congratulate the honorees Jack Smith, Chuck Stoll, Walter Heath’s Morro Bay in Bloom, and Fitness & Therapy Works for their leadership and investments in Morro Bay.