Meet Your Merchant: Cousins Terri Alvarado and Dennae Cromer have hit their stride at Spark’s Subsational Subs in Grass Valley |

Meet Your Merchant: Cousins Terri Alvarado and Dennae Cromer have hit their stride at Spark’s Subsational Subs in Grass Valley

Spark’s Subsational Subs

150 So Auburn St. Suite A, Grass Valley.

Union Square Parking Lot

530-273-4SUB (4782)


Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday

9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday

10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday

Cousins Terri Alvarado and Dennae Cromer used to talk a lot about someday going into business together — something small, like, say, a sandwich shop. They wanted to be their own bosses.

“I remember being parked on South Auburn Street across from Subsational Subs and wishing something like that would come up for sale,” said Cromer.

Remarkably, it did. Cromer, who was a manager at the Holbrooke Hotel at the time, happened to see a folded copy of The Union sitting on the counter several weeks later. A small headline seemed to jump off the page: “Local sandwich shop for sale.”

“I called Terri and we put an offer in the next day,” said Cromer. “We had been going there as customers for years.”

Ken Marchinek had bought the business in 1988 when it was still located inside a laundromat in the Safeway parking lot down the street. Ten years later, he moved the shop to its current location. After 29 years, he was ready to sell his beloved business, and Cromer and Alvarado seemed like the perfect candidates.

The duo officially took ownership in July of 2017, and added “Spark’s” to the name, in honor of Cromer’s husband’s late grandfather, whose money helped with the purchase of the business. Fortunately, manager Justus Talley came along with the shop.

“Justus was so much help in the beginning,” said Alvarado. “We had a lot to learn. The first couple of months was like having a newborn. Suppliers and customers assumed we were going to change things. But we saw a lot of what Ken did right. All we did was upgrade.”

Alvarado wasn’t new to food service. She had worked as a baker for Lucky’s for 16 years, then four more years at The Flour Garden.

“I was used to commercial kitchens, but this one was tiny — we added a sink and a stainless steel board,” said Alvarado. “I don’t know how they did it before.”

The pair did their homework, including attending food shows, where they learned about quality food offerings for small sandwich shops and eventually chose to upgrade some of their meats.

“We’re a good team,” said Cromer. “Terri mostly oversees the food preparation, while I pay the bills, do the bookkeeping and keep up on the menu board. It takes two of us to replace one Ken. We’ve got good teamwork here, which includes our five employees.”

The French Dip is the most popular sandwich at Spark’s Subsational Subs, followed by the hot pastrami. A close third is the turkey sandwich with avocado. Teenagers like the meatball sandwich, the impressive selection of chips and the newest fad — Yerba Mate.

Terri’s homemade potato salad serves as a perfect complement to any of these, in addition to her made-from-scratch soups during the winter months. Open at 7 a.m. on weekdays, teachers, merchants and construction workers are known to come in for the breakfast burritos, and often also get a lunch to go for later in the day. One customer comes in every day to get the 14-inch barbecue beef sub, and for good reason, said Comer. The brisket is slow-cooked in-house overnight, then simmered in barbecue sauce.

Cromer and Alvarado say they have enjoyed getting to know their regular customers. Those with stamp cards get one free sandwich after purchasing a total of 10, which is popular among families. In the future, the pair hopes to expand their catering services by bringing lunches to nearby businesses and offices.

But for now, they couldn’t be happier. In the two years since taking over the business, they say they’re proud of what they’ve accomplished.

“I guess I have ‘a need to feed,’” said Alvarado, with a laugh. “I like making comfort food that feels like home. It’s the kind of food that puts that look of joy on your face and makes you want to do a happy dance.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at

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