MILK AND COFFEE KINSHIP
A local entrepreneur and farmer redefine sustainability.
WRITTEN BY NATASHA BOURLIN
PHOTO BY CANDICE VIVIEN
Isidro Alves, owner of Sand Hill Dairy in Fallon, with Greg Buchheister, owner of Coffeebar in Truckee, Reno, and Menlo Park
The threads of sustainability extend beyond agriculture. They’re woven into a tapestry encompassing farmers, vendors, business owners, and the community itself.
Both Greg Buchheister, owner of eight-year-old Coffeebar, and Isidro Alves, owner of Fallon’s 15-year-old Sand Hill Dairy, understand the intricacies of sustainability. They’ve forged a connection between their two enterprises that allows them to support each other and grow together.
Buchheister established the first Coffeebar in Truckee in 2010. Today, with multiple locations in the Reno-Tahoe area (and one in Menlo Park), he says Coffeebar is a fusion of community café and restaurant group. His ability to buy in bulk benefits not only his own business, but also the smaller vendors from whom he buys — such as Sand Hill.
Monetarily speaking, milk is among Coffeebar’s top three most-purchased products.
Since opening the coffee-focused eatery, Buchheister tested many milks to find the best fit for his dairy-reliant shops but had yet to find perfection. Coffeebar team member Nikki Boyce knew that the small Sand Hill Dairy was shaking up the industry locally, so she introduced the two entrepreneurs.
“[Alves] is taking the road less traveled,” Buchheister explains. “Most milk producers don’t do their own processing, too.”
Along with raising cows, Sand Hill makes whole, non-homogenized milk that Alves claims has a fresh, rich flavor but is a bit different and not for everybody.
“It’s old-fashioned milk,” Alves explains. “We give our customers cream in all our milks.”
It’s the only dairy in Nevada that processes its products on the farm. Usually dairies raise the cows but don’t process the milk products. Processors, on the other hand, don’t usually own cows. Eventually, the finished products are passed off to a third party to distribute them.
Conversely, Alves controls the entire process “from cow to jug,” he shares. “We know that it’s been in our hands the whole time.”
When the two proprietors met in 2014, Alves was six months into milk processing and had just started wholesaling his products, but hadn’t done much direct-to-customers service yet. He remembers that it was tough getting doors to open in the retail market.
With milk, Buchheister resembles a sommelier who can quickly tell the difference between a $10 or $100 bottle of wine. When he tried Sand Hill’s milk, he found it to be a superior product, though believed it wouldn’t quite work with his coffee. Yet, wanting to establish a long-term relationship with a local dairy, he worked closely with Alves to find a common ground.
Alves shares that the breed of cow affects a product’s taste. Having a small, nimble farm, he chooses which cows make milk and which make cheese to better his products across the board. He says that the more natural fat and protein a cow produces in its milk, the more flavor it has. Jersey cows produce less volume but more lactose and butter fat, which equates to more sweetness — a quality desired at Coffeebar.
So Alves switched milk cows to accommodate it.
The bottom line
“You have to have available what customers want,” Alves says. “Price was actually one of the last questions Greg had.”
Coffeebar’s chief thought the new version’s sweetness and balance complemented his coffee well. That was a turning point for Sand Hill, which now could double its production.
“I owe everything to Nikki and Greg,” Alves says. “Now we have a legitimate customer needing regular product.”
The Coffeebar team even took a field trip to Sand Hill to connect more closely to what they serve. As Buchheister shares, the farming side is just one part; the other side is his team’s implementation on the floor and with their customers. Now, they all tout Sand Hill’s products to help Alves grow his business.
Coffeebar has spent about $250,000 on Sand Hill’s milk since establishing the partnership, but Buchheister says his customers don’t feel it, as he’s only had a couple of price increases since opening. He just wants to support locals — so much so that because the dairy doesn’t offer a nonfat milk, Coffeebar simply doesn’t carry it. Sometimes it upsets customers, he explains, but he feels it’s better to support Alves.
Some of the appeal of both businesses comes from their exceptional service and hardworking, consistent crews who often go above and beyond for their customers. But, ultimately, it’s the mutually beneficial relationship between the entrepreneurial pair that’s built a foundation for years to come.
Natasha Bourlin is a freelance writer and former black-coffee drinker with a deep, new respect for dairies like Sand Hill.
Sand Hill Dairy
3500 Trento Lane, Fallon • 775-745-9115 • Sandhilldairy.wpengine.com
Multiple locations in Reno, Truckee, Squaw/Olympic Valley, and Menlo Park • Coffeebar.com