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Robin Dworkin: A Tahoe Connexion Richer Than Coffee

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Sixty-five-year-old Robin Dworkin and her husband Jeff opened Coffee Connexion in Tahoe City in 1990, serving espresso coffees and pastries. A few years before that they ran a restaurant called Twain Station at the entrance to Alpine Meadows Road, which they owned with another couple for two and half years. Today, Robin’s busy cafe in Tahoe City sells 24 varieties of freshy roasted beans, specialty crepes, sandwiches, and teas.

Since Jeff’s death from cancer on the eve of 9/11, Robin has never considered doing anything else. “I think he’d be proud of me for still doing this. Sometimes I’m mad because he’s not here to do half of it with me, you know,” she says with an easy laugh.

But, backing up, how did they know about little Tahoe City, and come to settle here all those years ago, from where they’d been living in Poughkeepsie, New York?

“Friends from New York moved here before we did,” Robin says. “We stayed with them for a while until we got settled. I drove from the Hudson River Valley in 1977 in a red Ford van with my five-year-old daughter, Jenny. I had her when I was 18 and had no real work experience. After training in the CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) program here, I learned how to type and was placed at the Tahoe City PUD. I had known Jeff a little back in New York and we had mutual friends. He visited here in 1983 and we met again. I was no longer with the husband who had accompanied me here. Jeff and I married in 1986 at Chinquapin, just short of 15 years before he died,” Robin remembers.

The day that Jeff died, “he was pretty sick and he was on his way out, and I think he kind of gave up,” she says. Both natives of upstate New York, Robin says Jeff was aware of everything going on that day in September 2001. Afterward, Robin continued running Coffee Connexion, which includes the café in the Tahoe City’s Lighthouse Shopping Center on North Lake Boulevard and the coffee bean roasting company in Lake Forest. “Having the business really helped me because I felt I was carrying on for him in a way,” she says.

There was no question for Robin that Tahoe City was home, and a majority of that was the community. “I know a lot of people in town and I like that. Tahoe City is my home. My son, Jake, was 10 when Jeff died. Both my kids went to school here. I have two granddaughters here. We have a life, a business. I never thought of packing it in,” she says. Plus, the business was already running a successful roastery.

In 1996, when Jeff decided he wanted to roast their own beans rather than buy in bulk from Los Angeles, “he drove to Corvallis, Oregon,” Robin says, “and bought the roaster from a man named Mike Sivetz who engineered the Sivetz Hot Air Roaster. We’re still using it 22 years later.”

Today, she buys single origin beans from Emeryville that come from all over South America. In the roasting process, she enlists help. Her spitfire attitude outweighs her tiny frame in this case; the bean bags are 150 pounds, so she hires a guy who roasts 20 hours a week. Together they roast Columbian, Costa Rican, and Peruvian beans, and sell different blends to the majority of restaurants in town. Tahoe Delight (Italian and Columbian) and Sierra Sunrise (Vienna, French and Italian) are blends Jeff created.

And as for the café, it’s equally busy. “This year I bought a golf pass and the girls said, ‘Robin, don’t come in,’ so I’m going to try to stay away, and if I can do that I’ll keep going until I can’t anymore,” she says, determined.

In her time off, it’s Lake Tahoe that brings Robin peace.

“I love to canoe. Jeff and I canoed around the lake on our 10th anniversary because of Judge Vernon. He was the founder and first general manager of the Tahoe City PUD. I worked in payroll and would cut his pension check. He lived in the Vernon building next to Rosie’s Cafe. I’d deliver his check on my lunch hour and we’d sit and talk. I feel so special to have known him. He wrote a book about his honeymoon trip with Ethel called Around Lake Tahoe in a Row Boat.”

Robin said to Jeff, “Let’s do this!” Their anniversary was Sept. 21; the trip was the last five days in September 1996 and ended on October 1. There were no boats or waves. They stayed in motels and called friends to meet them for dinner. They loved it.

Never a skier, today, Robin’s happy places are walking around Lake Forest and canoeing.

 
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November 8, 2018