A chicken-and-egg story takes shape for Reno firm

So this story begins when Alan and Dawn Spinola bought land out in the country near Red Rock Road north of Reno because they wanted to have a horse.

Which, in due course, brought them to the feed store where Dawn Spinola saw some chicks that were simply too cute to resist.

Which, in a classic chicken-and-egg story, resulted in eggs a few eggs at first for the Spinolas' friends, but now the flock has grown to 461 chickens and the couple finds that they're busily developing a commercial egg business that serves grocers and restaurants.

RenoEgg.com, the couple's business, looks to catch the wave of interest in locally grown and healthier foods, delivering eggs produced by free-ranging chickens to Reno-area kitchens within a week. Dawn Spinola says that's about four times faster than deliveries from big egg producers to traditional grocers.

And that, more than dreams of big profits, drives the couple as they finance the growth of RenoEgg.com through credit cards and knock on doors to line up new markets.

"I am more interested in putting healthy food on people's tables," says Dawn Spinola.

But a start-up egg business presents a tricky challenge in balancing supply and demand.

Newly purchased chicks the Spinolas mostly raise heritage breeds that are in danger of disappearance need to be at least five months old before they start producing eggs. That means that RenoEgg.com can't simply sign up customers to begin deliveries tomorrow; the Spinolas need to be marketing potential new production months in advance.

An additional challenge: As days grow shorter, hens produce fewer eggs.

"I'm developing my market as I go along," says Dawn Spinola. "The Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission is benefiting greatly from our learning."

RenoEgg.com started selling 30 dozen at farmer's markets. (Dawn Spinola helped organize the Fall/Winter Farmer's Market at Bistro 7 in Reno.)

The couple added distribution through Great Basin Food Co-Op. Next up is distribution through Whole Foods Market, and the couple hopes to open doors at Walmart as well.

At the same time, the business distributes eggs to restaurants such as Dish Cafe, Back of the House, and Bistro 7.

Pricing $3 a dozen at wholesale, $4 for direct retail sales is intended mostly to keep the eggs' price competitive with mass-produced alternatives, Dawn Spinola says.

But it's not enough yet to generate a profit.

Along with the costs of chicks and feed, the biggest expense is housing the flock and protecting chickens from the cold and predators.

"My birds live in little Taj Mahals," says Dawn Spinola. "Unhappy birds won't produce healthy eggs."

Labor costs so far are minimal. The Spinolas, each of whom hold down fulltime jobs in town, spend many of their free hours with the chickens. A teen-aged worker helps out six hours a week. Another worker devotes four hours a week to the business in exchange for a steady supply of eggs.

While the growth of egg production is one step toward profitability, the owners of RenoEgg.com someday hope to add meat production to the business. And they figure vertical integration growing their own feed would add further to the company's sustainability.

But the business considerations, important as they may be, take second place to the profound sense of satisfaction that Dawn Spinola finds among her birds.

"It makes me happy every day," she says.


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