TRUCKEE, Calif. — Tom Marrin and Eric Barton aren’t who some may describe as typical businessmen.
Both wore T-shirts and shorts during a busy lunch rush on a recent weekday and one could just as easily mistake them for customers, much less the co-owners of one of Truckee’s most successful restaurants in Full Belly Deli.
They don’t show up to work in suits and ties. In fact, it’s unclear if either even owns a suit.
“We’re in the trenches,” Barton said. “We work on the line, shoulder to shoulder with our employees every day with them.”
Marrin and Barton — who started the morning at FBD’s recently opened Reno location — worked a full day. And that could mean any number of things. They might be taking customer orders, cooking food and preparing more food. It may also mean taking care of end-of-day bookkeeping and administrative duties.
Though aesthetically they may not fit the bill, the pair believes they have found a recipe for business success.
Marrin and Barton met while working for a local business — Marrin was in the kitchen, and Barton was running banquets.
“We were working our asses off,” Barton said. “We decided if we were going to be working this hard, we may as well open our own business.”
In December 2007, the two opened Full Belly Deli in the Pioneer Commerce Center in Truckee, and for about six months it was just the two of them.
They worked other jobs when they weren’t in the deli just to keep the dream alive.
“It started slow, now it’s going to be eight years this December,” Barton said. “Now, we have a dozen employees.”
The co-owners saw how quickly the demand started growing for their Truckee branch.
Eight years later, the demand had reached a zenith. When the pair started seriously considering expanding their business, Reno seemed like the natural place to go next.
The idea was simple, Marrin said: “Being able to go somewhere nearby, get some fresh homemade food that is locally sourced in your hometown. And that’s pretty much what we try to stick with, and it’s what we’re taking to Reno also.
“We’re still making everything from scratch; we’re still doing everything we can to help the community and be a part of that community.”
The new location has been open about three weeks now. Like its Truckee counterpart, the Reno branch at 3064 Mill St. is in an industrialized part of town.
“We liked the Monday through Friday breakfast and lunch crowd,” Marrin said. “There are a lot of workers in that area and not a lot of other (restaurant) options.”
Like the Truckee market, Marrin and Barton saw other restaurants utilizing locally grown foods for their menu, and the pair wanted to join that growing trend.
“We really appreciate the direction the Reno food scene is going,” Marrin said.
The duo spent the last year working with their Carson City-based meat supplier, helping that business go all-natural with its ingredients.
“That was the direction they wanted to go,” Marrin said.
Though the pair has achieved a certain amount of success, it doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty left to learn.
Marrin started as a chef at Northstar California years ago. Since then, he’s had to learn to network with local farmers and try to get produce within 100 miles of Truckee — it’s all led to a major leap forward in the way he prepares his food.
“Learning the avenues and how to use those, before that, it wasn’t even on my radar,” he said. “When you’re mass producing (food), you’re not even really concerned about it, but now places like Northstar and Squaw Valley are trying to replicate what we are doing.”
In terms of Full Belly Deli’s growth, it’s not just about expansion to Reno.
For example, the pair’s cooking talents were requested for the employee orientation banquet a few years ago at The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe’s grand opening.
“That was one of our claims to fame,” Barton said. “We were the first people to cook in the kitchen at the Ritz.”
Since, Marrin and Barton have had their skills requested at other resorts, including an upcoming Squaw Valley Farm to Table dinner toward the end of the summer.
“There is a lot of pride in what we think we’ve built here, so I think it’s important for our people to expect that they carry on that pride,” Marrin said.
For Barton, that pride comes from more than a decade’s worth of toiling long hours, being in the trenches and working side by side with his employees.
“We’re both that hands-on guy that is going to be right there with the employees doing it, not that ‘go do that’ and then I go to my office,” Barton said.