Mixing family with business may seem like a flammable version of oil and water to many, but for two Tahoe businesses the combination has created a welcome place in the Tahoe/Truckee food community. For the Truckee Sourdough Company and The Strudel Guy, the key to finding their niche has been hard work and family leadership.

Truckee Sourdough has been around for nearly 20 years and The Strudel Guy for seven, and both companies lean on artistry and creativity to design a unique and personal product. The companies recently shared their stories and family secrets to success.

Truckee Sourdough Company

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Truckee Sourdough Company began in 1995 with owners Keith and Dianne Nikkel baking sourdough at night in what was then Ponderosa Deli in Truckee. Now the company has 85 employees, more than 200 varieties of artisan bread products, and a Truckee baking facility that produces 25,000 units of bread a day. Despite the relentless demand, the Nikkels don’t rush the baking process.

“Time is the enemy of bland and poor-tasting bread,” Keith said, noting that bread turns out better when baked more slowly.

Family management has fueled the company’s forward progress. Sons Scott, 26, runs sales and distribution and has worked for the company for almost 14 years, and Carson, 25, does IT and accounting. In reality, though, the brothers have been helping with the business since they were kids.

Keith recalls the days when the kids joined dad on early morning bread runs. He would pay them with Vietnamese doughnuts that he would find in whatever town the deliveries were made.

“It’s been the same motions for us forever,” Carson said. “When we started to work for the company officially, it was a continuation of our lives before that.”

The sons say they have enjoyed growing up around the bread industry.

“I had fun back in the day,” Scott said. “We would slap labels on the bread bags around the dinner table, trying to help out.”

Truckee Sourdough Company supplies bread to chains like Safeway and Save Mart, local restaurants, and offers third-party labeling, where brands can put their logo on bread baked by Truckee Sourdough Company. As of this school year, they also supply all schools in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District with items like bread rolls, pizza dough, bagels, and more.

“I’m like a mad scientist; I come up with a new recipe just about every week,” Keith said. He points out his jalapeño cheddar roll and giant pretzels as examples.

Success has come with the inevitable turmoil of working closely with family. The Nikkels all work in the same office, except Scott, usually seven days a week, and admit to times of tension. Working a lot also means they often miss out on traditional family events, but they have learned to adapt.

Keith, 70, admits to not being able to stay at the same pace forever, but says it’s hard to envision not being involved.

“I would like to see the company stay with the family after seeing it built up to where it is,” he said. “It’s been a long, great run.”

The Strudel Guy(s)

The Strudel Guy was co-founded by father and son Alan and Jarret Dennis in Tahoe, but the recipe originated with a vanilla bean strudel developed by Alan in the Dennis’ home state of New Jersey long before moving West.

The start of the official company came around seven years ago when Alan visited Jarret who was living in Truckee. Jarret suggested that Alan make some strudels and take them around town. Alan started selling strudels at Truckee Thursdays, fell in love with the area, and soon after moved to Truckee.

The pair’s strudels soon attracted a following. The pastries are now made in South Lake, where Jarret now lives, and Alan has moved to Santa Rosa to oversee business in that region.

“These aren’t your grandmother’s strudels; there’s more filling than dough and there are many savory varieties,” Alan said, referencing flavors like wild mushroom tarragon and chocolate peanut butter.

The Strudel Guy now accepts custom orders and delivers around the lake, as well as selling at concerts, Truckee Thursdays, online through Etsy, at farmers markets, and other special events. Jarret is looking to expand to a brick and mortar location, possibly in South Lake. Additionally, their recipes have won numerous awards through the years.

“We all eat with our eyes first,” said Alan, who came from a background of fine arts photography before becoming a chef. “I’m dealing with food but utilizing an arts background.”

Jarret works six days a week for The Strudel Guy, averaging about 12 hours a day, during which he is in constant contact with his father.

“It can be hard, but I cherish getting to sit down with my father a few times a week and reflect on the business we have created,” Jarret, 33, said.

This is not the first time the father-son duo has worked together. They co-owned a restaurant in Florida for two years where Alan was the chef and Jarret was the sous chef and bread baker.

Working together has its problems, like differences of opinion and generational gaps in business styles.

“It’s taken a good number of years to make the operation cohesive,” Alan said. “I am very old-school and specific about certain things, and we are both hard-headed and opinionated, but things are going in a very positive direction.”

Jarret wants to grow the company to have franchises and an employee base of around 20, more than doubling the current staff.

“I also want to change the name from The Strudel Guy to The Strudel Guys so as to show it is not just one, but a group that is doing this,” Jarret said.

~ Visit truckeesourdough.com and strudelguy.com for more information.

Author

  • Dave Zook

    Dave Zook has been aiming to turn interests in outdoor activities like snowboarding and surfing into a professional endeavor for quite some time. He is elated to be writing and editing for Moonshine Ink and still have time to explore the ample offerings of the Sierra.

    Connect with Dave

    Visit:
    M-Tu, Th-Fr 9:30am - 6pm
    10317 Riverside Dr
    Truckee, CA 96161
    Email: dzook (at) moonshineink.com

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