In her own words: Sourdough marketer Sharon Donaldson-Arnold
Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us a little about your company.
Sharon H. Donaldson-Arnold: Student teachers are requested not to work while getting student teaching credits. I was a 50-plus, divorced woman, with three grown sons. I owned a home, a car and had a life, so I had to have an income during my five months of student teaching. I happened to be browsing David Legg’s Made in Nevada store in Park Lane Mall in 1994, and asked why he had no sourdough starter.
“Because no one has any, I guess.”
“Mine’s 22 years old and works great,” was my reply.
“Well, market it and I’ll buy it.”
Eight months later I brought my book, with the starter packet freeze-dried in it, and a smaller kit for his baskets, into his store. He was a great customer until the store closed. The products are available in most museums in the state, a lot of book and specialty stores. I specialize in the freeze-dried sourdough packet, which is included in the cookbook and also in the smaller kit, which includes recipes and instructions to reconstitute the starter. I created the whole book photos, recipes, cowboy poetry and writings except for the drawings, which my mother did. As the only employee I do it all, from having the fresh starter freeze-dried at Oregon State University, to filling packets, attaching them to the books and putting them in the kits, to the PR, which includes book signings where I bake sourdough biscuits. What really surprises me is I developed and printed this book in 1994, and it still sells! The aroma and taste of those baking biscuits couldn’t have anything to do with that, could it?
NNBW: How did you get into this profession?
Donaldson-Arnold: I love to cook and entertain, and have a cooking background 15 years as a substitute bed & breakfast innkeeper, and head cook at Camp Fleishman, near Lake Almanor for several years (that included training staff, preparing, cooking and serving three meals a day to anywhere from 350-450 Boy Scouts, leaders and camp staff for most of the summer; that’s a lot of sourdough pancakes and biscuits!)
NNBW: If you could have had any other profession what would it have been? Why wasn’t it your first choice?
Donaldson-Arnold: This business is my avocation; I am a teacher first. I retired from teaching 10 years ago, but now work as a substitute teacher. I am enjoying being back around the junior high and high school students.
NNBW: How do you spend your time outside the office?
Donaldson-Arnold: I love to be with family and friends and I enjoy golfing, hiking, walking, playing my piano, reading and traveling. I have been a member of the Made in Nevada program for 11 years and currently serve as chairman of the board, which requires a lot of time and travel spreading the word of this great organization.
NNBW: Do you have a favorite vacation memory?
Donaldson-Arnold: My sons, their father and I spent a lot of years traveling, camping, fishing and hunting in northern Nevada. Those were fun times.
NNBW: Of all the things you learned from your parents, which do you feel was the most valuable?
Donaldson-Arnold: Being encouraged to do whatever we felt we were capable of being and knowing we were loved and appreciated.
NNBW: What is the quirkiest or oddest job you’ve ever had?
Donaldson-Arnold: My 12th summer was spent plucking squab! I also had a yard-service business with a neighbor in my 30s. We loaded manure by shovels into trucks, then delivered and rototilled it in after clearing the garden for our clients. We were unofficially known as the “Shovel-N- S**t Girls” around Carson City.
NNBW: What is the one thing you most want people to remember about you?
Donaldson-Arnold: That I love my family and friends and brought fun and enjoyment to those who use my sourdough starter. A sourdough starter has a life of its own. I began my starter in 1972, gave it to family and friends, who gave it to family and friends. My sons each have their own starters. I hope my grandchildren will carry on the tradition.
The cancelation of the 2020 event “severely affected operating revenue,” according to the Great Reno Balloon Race.