North Tahoe sandwich shop’s organic offerings to include cold-pressed juices
November 18, 2015
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Say what you want about the organic food movement, but when it boils down to it — it feels good to eat good.
It's that organic way of thinking, mixed in with a sustainable, nutritious and locally sourced menu that is heating up the kitchen at Incline Village's Mountain High Sandwich Company.
"I've always thought about the concept of good, healthy, pure food and ways I could incorporate it into my own life, but I never really considered the fact that we could help other people, and ourselves, with food," said John Brimm, who co-owns the company with his wife of 11 years, Ashley.
Every ingredient on their menu is organic and locally sourced as much as possible, and the meats options come from humanely raised, sustainable sources.
"Since we opened, I've been reading more and learning more about organic and GMOs, which has brought a lot to light about the importance and benefits of eating pure food, and that's how we look at it," John said. "Not to speak ill of anything that's not organic because we don't ever want to draw a line and say we're better than something else, but it was important for us to be able to offer those benefits that come from eating organic, high-quality food."
FROM ONE VENTURE TO ANOTHER
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The couple — married for 11 years, but together for a total of 17 — decided to switch gears about two years ago, selling their previous restaurant venture, neighboring Austin's, and starting a new chapter with organic, fresh and seasonal soups, breakfast sandwiches, wraps and gourmet side dishes.
"We've definitely discovered how challenging it is to start a new business, and I wouldn't say we're working any less than we did before, but we're very passionate about this concept, and that makes it very rewarding," John said.
The vibe inside Mountain High Sandwich Co., nestled on a corner of the Country Club Mall, is much like the owners themselves — welcoming, friendly, relaxing, clean and bright. And the business seems to have made as much of an impact on the couple as the couple has on it.
While Ashley is a longtime vegetarian, creating the menu at Mountain High inspired her to branch out in her personal food palate with vegetarian, vegan, and dairy-free options, opening the door to a healthier and tastier variety of plant-based foods.
For John, a once-avid meat eater, the business has shifted his diet from meat-based to plant-based, as he's embraced a vegetarian diet for the first time.
"I would have laughed and then ordered a burger if someone told me I'd become a vegetarian a year ago," John said. "I didn't plan on making the switch, but I was in the right place at the right time to give it a try, and it stuck."
COLD-PRESS JUICE ON TAP
After rolling out the menu in stages — starting with the gourmet deli, then adding breakfast — the couple is ready to launch the final ingredient to the business: cold-pressed, organic juice.
"We've gradually moved into all the different aspects of the menu, and the cold-press juice is the final piece to complete the circle of what we wanted to do here," Ashley said. "Juicing was originally supposed to be my project, but I learned pretty quickly that I needed John's help with it, and it's turned out to be a great experience building that piece together."
Maintaining an all-organic menu with locally-made Kombucha on draft to boot does come at a high price tag, but the couple is not willing to compromise on the quality, so they've had to get creative by cutting back costs elsewhere.
"We're trying to keep our overhead low, we're making almost everything in-house, and we change the menu up based on what's in season, but it's definitely our biggest challenge and we're still learning," John said.
Apart from the collaboration on the juice menu, the sandwich ingredients, and the overall atmosphere inside Mountain High Sandwich Co., Ashley and John maintain relatively separate functions in terms of the restaurant's overall operations.
'A HUGE QUALITY OF LIFE CHANGE'
Having worked together for most of the 17 years they've been a couple, the Brimms' combined strengths complement each other like a well-oiled machine.
"We definitely have our own unique place in this business," John said. "The work is weighed pretty evenly between the front and the back of the house, and they're both pretty tough jobs so neither of us ever feels like we're working harder than the other person."
At the end of the day, it's the little changes that matter most to John and Ashley, like maintaining creative control on everything from the homemade, vegan cashew-based cheese to the selection of freshly cold-pressed juices, not to mention the freedom to control the playlist, which cycles through a selection of their favorite artists like The Grateful Dead and Widespread Panic.
"The biggest thing that's changed for us in general is that we get off a little bit earlier in the evening nowadays, so we're able to do things like walk our dogs, catch the sunset or make dinner," John said. "So that's been a huge quality of life change."
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at email@example.com.