Back to business

Local writer returns to CN&R, goes beyond storefronts to tell stories

My byline first appeared in this newspaper seven years ago. I was an intern studying journalism at graduate school, eager to spend a summer back in Chico gaining real-world reporting experience.

Although I had spent the previous four years as a Chico State student, so much of my time here was centered on the campus, rather than the community. This was the first time I began to look outward and catch on to other characteristics that contribute to Chico’s charm.

One of those aspects was the local business community. In my time as an intern, and later as a full-time reporter for the Chico Enterprise-Record, my interactions with the people involved in local business left me looking at businesses in a different light.

During my CN&R internship, I had the chance to write about Lundberg Family Farms. The family-owned organic rice company was celebrating its 70th anniversary and holding a media event with Jessica Lundberg, the daughter of one of the company’s original founders. Hearing Lundberg talk about the way her family grew rice and made rice products, and their commitment to sustainability to ensure the longevity of the company, made me look at my Lundberg Rice Chips a little differently. They weren’t just a snack anymore—they were the product of a legacy that began when four brothers decided to go into business together.

Later, as an E-R reporter, I sat in an empty Tres Hombres restaurant chatting with owner Michael Thomas, following the devastating 2009 fire that forced the closure of the downtown eatery for nine months. We talked about his challenges during the closure, with Thomas continually coming back to his employees. The weight of having to keep his doors closed and his self-described family out of work was apparent. Thomas had kept as many staff on as he could to help with cleanup and other tasks, but he was anxious to begin serving customers again. It wasn’t just about the money the business was losing—it was about supporting the livelihoods of his 70-some employees. When Tres Hombres re-opened, about three-quarters of those staff members returned to their posts. The dedication between Thomas and his employees showed me a side of the restaurant business that I hadn’t before considered. Compassion and camaraderie were just as important as the bottom line.

On the surface, these instances might not seem that noteworthy. But getting to meet and talk with people like Lundberg and Thomas humanized the world of business and pushed me to look beyond storefronts or logos. Businesses aren’t just buildings; they aren’t just places to shop and eat, and they aren’t just employers. Behind each one is a person, or people, with a story to tell.

These are the stories I want to share through this column. I’m hopeful our local business community will help me. Please reach out if you have any ideas.