Sweetness takes shape in downtown Gardnerville

Joanna Lilly, owner of the new Bravo Cafe & Bakery in Gardnerville, is injecting sweetness into a sour economy.

Her homemade scones, bagels and cookies, her made-from-scratch breads, sandwiches and soups are all pulling customers into her new restaurant along Highway 395, where Paradise Cafe once stood.

Lilly opened Bravo Cafe & Bakery on Halloween, and so far, despite the nation's economic turmoil, business has been good.

"We weren't sure what to expect, but the response has been great," Lilly said. "We've been busy since we opened."

Lilly and her husband, Douglas High teacher Mark Lilly, and their 10-month-old daughter Alice were at the cafe on Friday, the day after Christmas, baking pastries to replenish their display case which had been emptied by a flurry of holiday orders.

"We've had trouble keeping the pastry case full," Lilly said. "The downside to making fresh foods is that it's difficult trying to keep everything in stock."

But that's a problem Lilly is willing to grapple with. The soft-spoken 34-year-old has a history of filling orders and baking up a storm.

"I've been in the food industry for 18 years," she said. "I've bussed tables, bartended and catered, but I've always liked baking the best."

Lilly's culinary education spans the Northern Hemisphere. She grew up in Texas, in a military family that "cooked a lot together." She later spent three years in Germany with military friends where she was exposed to European cuisine. She also studied wedding cakes and chocolates at the International School of Baking in Bend, Ore.

In 2000, she moved to Lake Tahoe. Gardnerville became her new home after she met and married Mark. She earned accounting and business degrees from the University of Nevada, Reno, but after working as an accountant for a year and a half, realized her heart was somewhere else.

"I knew it wasn't what I wanted to be doing," she said.

Ironically, the same thing that led Lilly into accounting, her "detail-oriented" personality, also led her into baking.

"You have to be detail-oriented and careful in baking for things to come out right," she said.

In 2006, Lilly started Bravo Desserts, a dessert catering service specializing in wedding cakes.

"I started making them for friends and then other people started calling me," she said. "I got a reputation for really good cakes."

Lilly rented kitchen space in a Minden Village restaurant where she was able to fill orders. But because weddings provided only seasonal income, she was compelled to explore other markets, including pies and chocolates for the holiday season. She also began looking for her own store.

"When this location became available, we just jumped on it," she said. "It's a great location; it's right on the main road."

Lilly said the state of the economy did give her pause.

"Some days, we thought we were crazy for doing this," she said.

However, Lilly spent the summer at Carson Valley farmers markets, promoting her products and talking to customers. She said she was fortified by what people told her.

"Other places were closing, but the people I talked to were still looking for places to go," she said. "There was this encouragement from people. Our friends and family were very excited."

Lilly's financial acumen helped her establish a sound business model:

"Do a limited amount of things, but do them well," she said. "There is nothing on our menu over $7. You can make things affordable, but still good."

Lilly said making products from scratch is a lot of work that pays off in the long run.

"It's worth it when people keep coming back for one thing," she said.

So far, Lilly's homemade bagels and breakfast sandwiches are her biggest sellers, although her lunch-time sandwiches, quiches, soups and salads are also becoming popular, not to mention her already-popular desserts.

"It's nice to have a balance between sweets and healthy foods," she said. "A fresh cookie and a salad."

Bravo is also offering Minden-based Alpen Sierra Mountain Roasted Coffee.

"In this career, there is so much to learn," Lilly said. "It becomes a lifestyle."

Bravo Cafe & Bakery is located at 1483 Highway 395. Business hours are 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends.

The dessert catering service is now being run out of the restaurant.

Call 783-9110 for more information.


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