WRITTEN BY BARBARA TWITCHELL
PHOTO BY JACI GOODMAN
Sam Francovich is about to make an unusual confession. He leans forward and with a mischievous laugh readily admits, “We really like very, very bad weather during the holiday season. That’s what sells eggnog.”
Francovich, owner of The Grill restaurant in Reno, also is the head of an interesting family business –– one that is active only two months each year. From mid-October until late December, family members come together one day a week to re-create Francovich Holiday Nog, based on a recipe their ancestor, Eli Francovich, brought from his native Yugoslavia.
In 1867, Eli started making this distinctively light eggnog — laced with just enough aged Kentucky bourbon and Jamaican rum for a modest 7 percent alcohol content –– to give as holiday gifts. Thus began a family tradition that has continued for five generations and for 143 years. And in a little more than a decade since going commercial, it has become a thriving family business.
Sam Francovich loves to reminisce about Holiday Nog Sunday, a day when the family would gather together in his parents’ kitchen to make the traditional recipe to give to family and friends.
“It was dad’s favorite day of the year,” he says. “We’d sit around the table bottling and laughing … it was really a fun day.”
The biggest challenge back then was finding enough bottles for the eggnog. Some friends saved bottles for them all year long. Others would show up at the kitchen door, empty bottle in hand, ready to have it filled with the delightful beverage.
After entering the retail market in 1999, the family continued to blend and bottle the concoction in the kitchen of Lillian Francovich, the family matriarch. They later moved the operation to Sam’s restaurant. In 2008 they expanded to a 2,500-square-foot facility at Crystal Ice and Oil Co. in Reno, where they remain today.
Although they’ve moved out of the kitchen, Francovich says it’s still very much a family effort.
“Usually on the bottling line there are 10 of us,” Sam explains. “Eight of us are family, plus a few friends join, as needed.”
And those family members include Lillian, who at 85 still is actively involved in the process.
“She has fantastic hands. She’s very fast,” he says. “Better than some of the young kids who work with us!”
Using a 1940s bottling machine, they manage to produce 4,800 liter bottles a day, 26,000 bottles for the year –– a far cry from the days in mama’s kitchen.
That’s a big task for a handful of people working only one day a week over two months. True, Francovich concedes, but insists “… it’s still a blast.”
The market for the product continues to grow. You now can find it at retail giants such as Costco and Walmart, as well as most major grocery chains in Northern Nevada and Northern California.
The good news is you don’t have to bring your own bottle nowadays. But if you have to drive through some awful weather to get to your local store, feel free to blame Sam Francovich. He won’t mind as long as their eggnog keeps flying off the shelves.
Barbara Twitchell, a Reno-based freelance writer, admits to being an unabashed fan of holiday family traditions and fills the season with as many joyful customs as she can. She is always willing to add a new tradition –– especially one that includes cream, bourbon, and rum!