For most people, retirement means rest and relaxation. Not so for Vincent Nonella, who peeled away from his first career to launch Best Apple Co., a small family business that produces everything from jams to baked goods to caramel apples.
After retiring from the fruit and vegetable cooling business in Guadalupe, Nonella didn’t plan on just sitting around; he wanted to establish a business that he could pass along to his sons, Vance and Varden.
In 1990, Nonella purchased five acres in Nipomo on which the trio planted a Fuji apple orchard. The initial idea was simply to harvest the fruit and sell it at local farmers markets, which the Nonellas began doing in 1992, but the family’s energy and ambition quickly outgrew that core idea.
“Obviously, apples are just a fall fruit,” said Tami Williams, Vance’s girlfriend and part of the Best Apple Co. team. “They (the Nonellas) realized they wanted to branch out a bit so they would have product for the rest of the market year.”
Nonella turned to his family’s Swiss-Italian heritage in rising to the next level. He fondly remembered all the baking his mother used to do, especially when every flat surface of the kitchen was covered with fresh loaves right out of the oven.
As a result, the Best Apple Co. started offering several freshly baked goodies at its market stand. Choose one of the savory loaves of ciabatta, sourdough, rosemary garlic and jalapeño cheese breads, or try one of the apple pecan, zucchini, banana, or coconut breads. If your sweet tooth really wants a fix, opt for cookies the size of saucers or the carrot cake with cream cheese icing.
For something equally tasty to put on top of your breads, check out Best Apple’s extensive spread of handmade fruit jams. Depending on the season, choices range from raspberry to boysenberry, peach to plum, and tangerine marmalade to strawberry-kiwi. A handful of gourmet jams might include tomato basil, lavender and even rose petal.
To kick things up a bit, Best Apple Co. also produces “hot” fruit jams with the heat coming from chili peppers. Among the most popular are peach jalapeño, apricot chipotle and jalapeño strawberry.
“When Vince came up with strawberry jalapeño jam, we thought he was crazy,” remembered Williams. “But he kept pressing us to try it, and the mix of hot with sweet was just amazing! Try some over cream cheese and serve it with crackers — it’s sure to be a hit.” (The hot jams also lend themselves very well to barbecue glazes.)
All of the Best Apple Co. products are made by the Nonellas in a certified kitchen facility on the family’s Nipomo property, including the decadent array of plain, nut-rolled or candy-covered caramel apples. Williams noted that everything is done by hand, from the canning and baking to printing all the product labels.
The Nonellas also grow the majority of the fruit and vegetables they need for Best Apple Co. (any other produce is always locally sourced), and they’ve opted not to use any pesticides on their orchard and gardens. Bugs aren’t a problem, however, thanks to the property’s vigilant pest patrol — a couple hundred free-range chickens that produce the added benefit of fresh eggs to be sold at market.
“It’s all a lot of work,” admitted Nonella, now well into his 70s. “But what else should I be doing? The hard work keeps me young!”