With one semester left to go in college, Jessica Norris flew from her hometown outside Baltimore to Reno, and there was no looking back. The East Coaster had never visited Tahoe/Truckee, but when the managers at Tahoe Mountain Club met Jessica at a hospitality conference in Los Angeles and offered her a summer internship in Truckee, she said yes.
A 20-year-old student at the University of Delaware majoring in Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management, her dream was to manage a country club someday. “Inside a month of being here, TMC offered me a full-time position as events sales manager.” She says she called her mom and said, “pack my things. I’m not coming home.” She transferred credits and completed her degree at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village.
More lucky stars appeared when Jessica, now 30, met her future husband, Eric Barton, Events Operations Manager at Tahoe Mountain Club, who left his position to open Full Belly Deli in Truckee in 2008. Jessica and Eric worked together in the early stages to set up the business, “but that’s it,” she says. “We have a great team and I don’t need to make sandwiches. I like to eat them!” Advancing their personal and professional lives, Eric recently opened a second deli location in Reno, and the couple has a five-year-old daughter Layla who begins kindergarten this fall at Tahoe Expedition Academy.
What was your first impression of Truckee after growing up in a city as large as Baltimore?
I still remember getting off the plane in Reno, driving up 80 and I had no idea where I was going. I didn’t know Truckee at all. I vividly remember driving through the mountains. I didn’t know what to expect on the other side. After just a few weeks of being here, I felt at home. There’s certainly a sense of community which I love and I’ve tried to immerse myself in.
In your early 20s you pursued a sommelier certification, which is fascinating. How did that come about?
I worked at Tahoe Mountain Club through 2007, then opened Bacchus & Venus wine bar in downtown Truckee in 2008 for owner Marcy Roth, whose first location is still in Sausalito. That same year I decided I wanted to pursue wine which was an interest of mine: the history, geography, chemistry of it. I went to Texas because of the timing of courses and became certified through the International Wine Guild. I’m an executive sommelier which is a level two. The master is the ultimate. At the time I was one of the younger female sommeliers.
What have you done with your certification?
The Ritz-Carlton opened in 2009, so I got hired on as the wine director for about a year, at which point they promoted me to restaurant manager for Manzanita. I had the opportunity to work closely with Traci Des Jardins, renowned chef from San Francisco, and was under her wing, so that was a really cool experience.
Do you use your sommelier skills now?
Yes. I’ve done some personal shopping for people’s private cellars. I do events. I know a lot of people in the wine world up here so I’m constantly giving advice and connecting vendors. I collect champagne which is a little different because it has to be drunk sooner than most wines which is generally why people don’t collect it.
Now you’re a partner with Business Opportunity Brokers. How did you get from the hospitality business to real estate?
Through Traci Des Jardins. She introduced me to Todd Chapman, President and CEO of JMA Ventures who owns Homewood Resort and West Shore Cafe. In 2011, I left the Ritz for a general manager role at West Shore Cafe and to experience the luxury lodging side of the resort. I was there for three years and had a daughter in between all that. There was a lot going on … I needed to step back and do something more real estate focused so I could have flexibility. My mom, Karen Norris, moved out from Baltimore when I was pregnant. She’s a certified business evaluator and a CPA, and has been doing business brokerage my whole life. We became partners and opened Business Opportunity Brokers, an affiliate of Dickson Realty, with three other partners: Ron Hemig, his son Jim, and Kristine Mitchell.
What sports do you like?
I’m a runner. I love skiing, hiking, anything outdoors. I have two dogs, Jed and Rosie. We run in Tahoe Donner and along Alder Creek. I’m also an avid CrossFitter. I’ve taken it to the next level and train with an amazing coaching staff at Blizzard in Truckee. It’s not just a workout for me. It’s a sport. I’m most proud of my daughter Layla who comes to the gym with me. We do handstand walks every night. She already has a ton of perseverance.
Is there anything fun or quirky you can reveal?
For a minute I had a wedding cake business back east and a little out here. The delivery is the worst part. It’s stressful. I haven’t done wedding cakes recently, but I do love to bake.