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Made in Tahoe

Local folks making food
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Other Tahoe-Truckee companies that make food and drink:

Coffee Connexion
Lighthouse Center, 950 North Lake Boulevard, (530) 583-6023,

Tahoe Teas
(877) 73-BEST-T,

Truckee Sourdough
10607 West River Street, (530) 587-3939

Truckee Bagel
1448 Deerfield Drive, (530) 582-1852,

Seattle has its coffee, San Francisco its sourdough bread, and New York its world-famous pizza. So what does Tahoe have? Known more for producing extreme athletes than food, people may be surprised to discover that there are some unique food products that are made only in the Tahoe/Truckee area. Usually a one-man or family-run operation, these small, local businesses were often started on a fluke or as a hobby and grew into a livelihood. Along the way, some business owners had to make the decision to grow and leave Tahoe, or stay small and stay put. But whether they’re making bread or coffee or bars, these homegrown producers all have one thing in common — they do it because they love it.

JuJu Z. Treat Company
Last Memorial Day weekend during a camping trip, Karen Brunings and her family were sitting around the campfire when someone came up with the idea of stuffing the chocolate inside the marshmallow before roasting it over the fire. But the chocolate wouldn’t melt and the marshmallows lacked flavor. So Brunings decided to make her own. She started by making the treats in her own kitchen and giving them away to friends. They became so popular that by the following summer she moved to a commercial kitchen in Truckee and was selling her confections at retail stores like Ace Mountain Hardware, the Cooking Gallery, and the Glenshire General Store. The marshmallows, all made with real fruit and no preservatives, come in five different flavors — vanilla, chocolate, coconut, raspberry, and orange — each with a chunk of milk or dark chocolate inside. For Christmas, Brunings is planning on mking peppermint and pumpkin spice. But these marshmallows are not just for s’mores. Brunings says they go great in Rice Krispy treats, chocolate martinis, coffee drinks, and hot chocolate, and her website has a list of recipes. Best of all, Brunings has two guinea pigs living with her to taste all her products: her daughters, Jorja and Zoe, whom the company is named after. Info: (530) 320-8051,

Sierra Grains
When Lisa McDonald’s husband started having health issues, she decided to experiment with healthy food to try and help him get better. McDonald, who started a dessert business in 1983, began by making her own organic, vegan bread. Since grain starts to loose a lot of its nutrition three days after it’s ground, McDonald would bake the loaf soon after grinding the grain. She never planned on selling the bread until a fateful day about 15 years ago when a huge storm hit during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Her husband went to Safeway only to find the shelves empty. The store manager begged him to bring them as many loaves as they could. McDonald made 200 loaves, which sold out. The rest, as they say, is history. Her bread began selling in New Moon Natural Foods, Wild Oats, and 10 Raley’s stores. At one point, her husband, John, and three sons were all working for the company. When Raley’s asked them to come in to all their stores, McDonald had to make a choice: expand and move to Sacramento, where distribution was located, or remain a small family business in Tahoe.

McDonald chose the latter. 'It wasn’t who we were,' she said about moving off the hill. Today, McDonald bakes around 300 to 600 loaves per bake, depending on the season, and has three flavors – apple cinnamon raisin walnut, multi-grain, and Squaw. She sells her bread to four stores and at the Quincy Farmers Market, and her Tahoe Gelato cannoli and cassatas can be found at the Cal-Neva, Soul Domain, and Spindleshanks. 'I don’t want to be any busier,' she said. Info: (530) 546-4698,

Truckee River Winery
Unlike Brunings or McDonald, Russ Jones didn’t accidentally fall into his profession. Jones, who grew up in Truckee, set out to become a winemaker. After studying winemaking at UC Davis, Jones returned to the area and started Truckee River Winery in 1989, making it the highest and coldest winery in California. Truckee’s altitude and cold temperatures actually aid Jones in making wine — the yeast has an easier time fermenting because of the altitude, and the cool nighttime temperatures help slow down the barrel aging process. Unlike wineries at lower elevations, Jones lets Mother Nature do the cooling work instead of air conditioning. Jones gets his grapes from Monterey, Nevada County, Eldorado County, and Lodi. Last fall, he started his own vineyard in Truckee using cold–hardy grapes from Michigan. So far, it’s just experimental — he was only able to harvest less than 50 pounds of grapes this fall.

Truckee River Winery is a family affair — Jones is the winemaker, his wife, Joan, runs the business, and his daughter Katy is in charge of the tasting room. The winery produces around 1,000 cases a year of its pinot noir, merlot, zinfandel, pinot gris, and chardonnay varietals, which are sold locally at the Pour House and both Uncorked locations. The winery has a new tasting room on Brockway Road, complete with a bocce ball court, horseshoe pit, and picnic area. Info: (530) 587-4626,

Tahoe Trail Bar
Like Sierra Grains, Tahoe Trail Bar started small. Two women working at Hot Gossip Espresso Bar in South Lake Tahoe began baking and selling the energy bar out of the cafe in 2001. Once the bar grew in popularity, however, the women made the opposite choice of McDonald — they decided to move operations outside of Tahoe in order to grow and meet demand.

Although the Tahoe Trail Bar is now made in Carson City, the original recipe remains the same. 'It’s all natural, very straightforward ingredients,' said Wes King, who bought the company this summer. 'There are no preservatives and it’s a bigger portion than most energy bars.' The 3.5-ounce bar, which is packed with peanut butter, oats, chocolate chips, raisins, and flax seed, only comes in one flavor. But King is planning on expanding the flavors within the next nine months to include vegan, fruit, and chocolate-covered espresso bean. If you notice the bar’s packaging looks a little different, you’d be right — King redid the logo and added color to the wrapper. King, who ran an eBay business, was a longtime consumer of the bar before he bought the company. 'I saw its potential and I liked getting behind something I believe in,' he said. The Tahoe Trail Bar is sold around the Basin and as far away as San Francisco. You can find the bar at cafés like Coffee Connexion, Elijah Blue’s, Wild Cherries, Syd’s Bagelry, and Full Belly Deli. Info:,

Sierra Pacific Coffee Company
Susan Reynolds was a realtor for 25 years before she stumbled into the coffee roasting business. In 2009, she was showing Truckee-based Sierra Pacific Coffee Company to a friend when he suggested that she buy it. So she did. But before going off on her own, Reynolds worked for the original owner for eight months, learning the tricks of the trade. As with making wine at altitude, there are advantages to roasting coffee at high elevation. The beans need to be roasted at a lower temperature and for a shorter amount of time. This gives the coffee a flavor advantage by helping to avoid two of the most common problems in coffee roasting: baking, which happens when the coffee is roasted for too long, and scorching, when the beans are roasted at too high of a temperature. The former causes a flavor that is flat and lacks intensity, while the latter leads to a taste that is wild and woody. High-altitude roasting prevents both of those pitfalls.

The majority of Sierra Pacific’s beans, which come from all over the world, are organic, fair-trade, and shade grown. The company offers seven blends of coffee, including made-to-order. Reynolds, who in addition to being the roastmaster is also the delivery girl, delivers to restaurants, cafes, and markets from Nevada City to South Lake Tahoe to Reno.

Reynolds views coffee making as a creative process.

'I think it’s an art,' she said. 'I create something that people enjoy.' Info: (530) 550-0590,

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Soul Kitchen dishes out one-of-a-kind recipes from Tahoe locals. Read about Tahoe Truckee’s local food culture, get a roundup review of local venues, catch a new recipe, and find out what's in season.

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March 14, 2019