Meet Your Merchant: Old 40 Kitchen & Grill – local family, local food, local love
TRUCKEE, Calif. – The word “local” is revered in the Truckee/Tahoe region. It signifies time and dedication spent in a seasonal environment where climate changes can be unpredictable. It implies your hobbies and passions may mean more than your job title. It’s a title not taken lightly by Tahoans who earn their place and prove their worth as contributors and altruists of this sovereign land. In the mere six months that Old 40 Kitchen & Grill on Donner Pass Road in Truckee has been open, the family-owned caf has established its local status. Menu ingredients come from three North Lake Tahoe distributors, the employees are staffed from the neighborhoods of Donner Lake, the owners are 20-year Donner Lake residents, the coffee is locally roasted and brewed, and even the wooden tables and countertops come from discarded timber out of the forest surrounding the incandescent alpine lake.”We really don’t have to go anywhere else for supplies,” said Brett Fite, head chef and co-owner of the breakfast and lunch joint. “We try to stay as local as possible because we want to keep the money in the community.”In February 2011, loyal patrons of Donner Lake Kitchen were somber to hear their favorite local spot would be closing after the former owners were unable to subsidize improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act requiring expensive retrofits to accommodate handicap persons.Around that same time, another Donner Lake family was going through a trying time. Fite and his wife, Stacey, were reluctantly living in separate towns, with Brett working as a plumber and construction worker in the Bay Area and Stacey plugging away at multiple jobs in Truckee to support her two kids. “It was a hard winter for me – I worked hard, I shoveled a lot of snow and it was difficult having Brett away, but he couldn’t find work up here so we had to make do with the situation,” said Stacey. “When we heard about Donner Lake Kitchen closing, we were sad to see it go, but I also saw it as an opportunity to bring the family back together and keep us in Truckee.”Property owner Roger Gannan began looking for new tenants to take over the restaurant, but the necessary upgrades were costly, and Gannan needed someone willing to put in the work required by federal law, so the Fites started saving their pennies.After receiving the green light from Gannan to begin retrofitting, the couple called upon friends and family to help with gutting the building’s insides. The bathrooms required handicap access, the kitchen needed a revamp and the Fites wanted the interior dcor to reflect the character of the new restaurant.”We put in a lot of manual labor bringing this place up to code,” Brett said. “I feel fortunate that I was able to do a lot of the work myself having been in the construction business.”The husband and wife duo spent hours tasting different foods, cooking with various ingredients, looking into what meat and produce was available locally, and designing a breakfast and lunch menu that would include both hearty and healthy items.”It was important for us to offer vegan and gluten-free options, but we also wanted comfort food on the menu like our family-style breakfast and our famous Pattie Melt,” Stacey said. “It was trial and error in the beginning, and if we didn’t want to eat it, we definitely weren’t going to serve it.”While some find it hard to adapt to change, many locals who frequented the diner during its previous ownership are now warming up to the new restaurant – which offers Monday Night Football specials to accommodate the local community. “It was important to us to offer some sort of discount for the locals, so we figured Monday would be a good night to bring in the Donner Lake crowd, and so far, it’s been a success,” Brett said. Not only is Brett enjoying life behind the grill again as head chef, but the business venture has also awarded the laid back couple with some much needed time family time.”Working breakfast and lunch has been great because we’re done in time to get home for the kids every day,” Stacey said. “It’s been a really positive change for our family.”
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