Reno Family Seeks Niche For Spiked Eggnog

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Reno Family Seeks Niche For Spiked Eggnog
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When Eli Francovich left his homeland in the 1800s seeking riches in the gold-laden West, little did he know his ancestors would seek theirs in richness of another sort – a creamy, holiday brew.

For five generations, the Francoviches have gathered in their kitchens around the holidays to make homemade spiked eggnog from the recipe Eli brought with him when he emigrated from Petrovac, Yugo-slavia.

They’d make the blend of milk, cream, eggs, spices – and, oh yes, rum and bourbon – in seven-gallon batches, carefully following the time-cherished formula.

Now, they’re hoping to create a niche in the spiked eggnog season by taking “Francovich Holiday Nog” to larger production.

“We’re hoping to have a little success and take baby steps,” said Deborah Francovich Stoker, who with her brothers Sam and Jeff Francovich, their mother Lillian, and their spouses and children are taking their holiday nog tradition to new levels.

It all started with Eli. As one of Reno’s earliest settlers, he came to the frontier town in 1859 and built the “The Wine House,” a bar and restaurant on Commercial Row that became a favorite gathering place.Limited bottling. During the Christmas season, he would share his creamy concoction with friends and guests. Each generation hence has bottled the homemade brew to a limited extent, giving it away as yuletide gifts.

The current generation recalls how their father Samuel Boyd Francovich, a former Reno city attorney, would labor over the creation.

“We couldn’t do anything right. He had to supervise every cup of sugar,” Deborah Stoker said. “We used to joke about how nervous he’d get if we put an egg in before he said it’s time.”

“We used to make about 100 gallons during the Christmas season,” said her brother Sam Francovich. “We’d give it to family and friends.”

Three years ago, the three siblings and their families decided to test the public market and arranged to sell their beverage in three Reno area grocery stores.

They sold about 100 cases.

“That was enough incentive to move to larger production last year,” said Vickie Francovich, Jeff’s wife and general manager of the family owned business.

In 2000, they rented space in a commercial kitchen and made the holiday nog in a 100-gallon vat, using a rudimentary machine to fill five, one quart bottles at a time. Sales jumped tenfold, to 1,000 cases.

This year, with an investment of about $250,000, they hired a distributor, rented a plant and purchased bigger, more efficient equipment.

Each batch – 1,250 gallons at a time – is blended, then pumped to an automated conveyor line, where the bottles are filled, sealed and labeled.

The expiration date – about five weeks from production – is written on each bottle by hand.

Holiday Nog is available in about 100 stores statewide, Vickie Francovich said, retailing for about $12 a bottle. The family hopes to expand into northern California next year, and possibly the Pacific Northwest after that.

As a seasonal product, production costs are high. Though the eggnog season lasts only about a month – mid-November through mid-December – the plant must be rented for the full year to comply with distillery licensing regulations, the family said.

“Right now we’re just paying for things,” Jeff Francovich said. “It’s more a labor of love.”

Still, the family believes Francovich Holiday Nog will gain wide appeal as a yuletide treat.

“This is Christmas,” Deborah Stoker said.

Some analysts and industry officials agree.

Locally it’s a strong seller, said Mike Greninger, manager of Ben’s Liquors in Reno.

Though other distillers add liquor to pre-made eggnog for holiday brews, the Francovich blend is made from scratch.

“It’s a niche market, obviously, but eggnog and holiday drinks have a very rich history,” said David Landau, spokesman for the International Dairy Foods Association, an industry trade group in Washington, D.C.

“Eggnog sales have been very mature and stable throughout the years,” he said, citing figures for 1999, the last year available, during which consumers purchased just under 12 million gallons.

“People associate it with being with family and friends,” Landau added. “It brings a lot of good memories for people.”

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. Article from December 08, 2001.

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This article was written by Sam Francovich

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