Penn Valley’s Blue Cow Deli’s new owners are inspired to build upon an already successful menu. | TheUnion.com

Penn Valley’s Blue Cow Deli’s new owners are inspired to build upon an already successful menu.

Gabriel and Sarai Simning took over Penn Valley's Blue Cow Deli in December.

Food has always played a big role in the lives of Sarai and Gabriel Simning.

For Sarai, organic farming and raising her own meat became a passion after moving to Nevada County from her native city of Sonoma. Gabriel had been farming since he was 20 in Wisconsin, where he worked at a number of large commercial biodynamic farms. He also started his own CSA and eventually became the national produce sales coordinator for the farmer-owned company, Organic Valley. He then went on to culinary school.

As young adults, both were drawn to the culture and lifestyle of Nevada County and met by chance at Foggy Mountain Music in Grass Valley.

"Neither of us are musicians," said Sarai, with a laugh. "But we just started talking and didn't stop. We had to move outside. We both felt as though we'd known each other before."

Now a couple for the past 10 years, the Chicago Park duo has become regularly involved in disaster relief by preparing nutritious food for as many as 2,000 people at a time. Under the umbrella organization United Peace Relief, their "Rough and Ready Relief Kitchen" has worked on site at the likes of hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. In fact, they have recently bought and custom designed a trailer, which now serves as a "disaster kitchen," and can be transported anywhere people are in need.

"Doing this for people is one of the best feelings in the world," said Gabriel. "There are so many stories that still bring me to tears."

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DREAM COME TRUE

Another dream Sarai and Gabriel shared was one day owning their own cafe, and a year or so ago they began their search for the perfect place. When they heard the Blue Cow Deli in Penn Valley was for sale, they were intrigued.

"It looked cute in the pictures," said Sarai. "So we came down here the next day."

Longtime owner Sara Laurin was ready to move on to a new life chapter, but knew she had created a successful business model. Upon learning of a possible change in ownership, the first thing customers would tell her was, "Tell them not to change anything."

"Sara was great — we were able to overlap and learn from her," said Gabriel. "I worked with her for two months and Sarai came in six weeks before we took over."

In December of 2017, the Simnings officially got the keys to the Blue Cow Deli.

"The first thing we set out to do was figure out how to make things better without changing much," Gabriel said. "My first task was to make service faster. Then we bumped up our beer selection and began offering wine by the glass. We also switched to organic chicken and greens."

Eager to add his own culinary flare to the menu, Gabriel — whose Italian grandparents passed down a love of food — has made the daily specials his own domain. According to regular customers, he "knocked it out of the park" when he introduced the "Notorious F.I.G.," featuring marinated tri-tip, caramelized onions, melted brie, fig spread and fresh arugula "paninied" on a ciabatta roll.

LOCAL FAVES

The menu, which Gabriel describes as "California contemporary with a Southwestern flair," boasts popular sandwiches such as The South County, which includes roasted turkey, bacon, provolone, onion and tomato with chipotle mayo on a toasted ciabatta roll. The Yuba includes cold salmon, lemon dill aioli, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, and red onion, also on a toasted ciabatta roll. There are vegetarian options (Madame Penn's Veggie) as well as hearty sandwiches for meat lovers, such as the Pentucky BBQ Pulled Pork and the Blue Cow Carnitas Torta. Also popular are the grilled paninis and signature salads, all of which can be enjoyed on their dog-friendly patio.

"Really there isn't any one thing we could remove from the menu," said Sarai. "They're all really popular. We get orders of everything off the menu just about every day. I love feeding people — it feels good to serve people from all walks of life. I love seeing the employees from the local hardware store, the gas station and grocery store who have been serving me all these years. Now I get to serve them."

"This has been a lifelong dream — I saw a vision of this years ago when I was going to culinary school," said Gabriel. "I'd stop here in Penn Valley to carpool with classmates and remember saying, 'Someday I'm going to own my very own restaurant.'"

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.

Blue Cow Deli

Address: 17500 Penn Valley Drive, Suite A Penn Valley

Phone: 530-432-5500

Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:30am-5:30 p.m.

Website: http://bluecowdeli.com

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