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From the Heart of Nappalachia: Meet Natalie Niksa, Founder of Napa’s Best Kept Secret

By Emily Merrell

When going to Napa, it’s easy to get caught up in the normal tourist destinations like dining at the prestigious French Laundry, sipping wine at Duckhorn Winery and biking up and down the highway. But in downtown Napa, nestled on the corner of California Avenue, sits Nappalachia. Nappalachia is a grab-and-go shop open exclusively on Friday’s. This shop is owned by esteemed La Saison husband and wife chefs Natalie and Jonathan Niksa. Find out more about the unique magic that makes up this charming Napa shop below! Hint: It includes decadent Napa Cookies and perfectly seasoned almonds.

SDS: I took one look at your Instagram @nappalachia and saw how mouthwatering your creations are. Tell us a bit about your culinary training and what brought you to Napa?

NATALIE NIKSA: I grew up around the table in an Italian-American family. I was practically stuffed my entire adolescence with home cooked meals. In the second grade, a girl moved to my elementary school in Connecticut from the Napa Valley. I thought she was the COOLEST girl I had ever met. Needless to say, a seed was planted. Throughout high school I worked on farms, in grocery stores doing cooking demonstrations and at my best friend’s high-end family restaurant. When all of my friends were choosing which colleges to apply to, I chose The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

I met my then, soon to be husband, Jonathan during my third year. He urged me to apply to a scholarship that the school was offering at the time. They chose 10 students that were in the top of their class to attend the Food and Wine magazine Classic in Aspen, Colorado. Each student was paired with a chef. I was paired with a chef who owned a winery in the Napa Valley. We hit it off and I was offered a job upon graduation in Napa, CA.

SDS: You and your husband started La Saison catering and Nappalachia in Napa. What is the meaning behind both of them?

NN: I started La Saison (@lasaison_napa) with a small table at the St. Helena farmers market. We sold products made with local olive oil such as our olive oil roasted almonds and olive oil cake (which we still sell on our online platform and ship nationally). Not many wineries were offering wine and food pairings in 2007 and I saw a niche to offer this to local wineries. La Saison translates into ‘The Season’. Similar to the term terroir, which is often referenced with wine, there is a sense of place that also comes from food. It has always been my focus to work with the season when preparing dishes. We are pretty spoiled in Napa and have an abundance of fresh produce all year round, but there are certain special ingredients like persimmons or Buddha Hand that are only available for a short window of time. It is in these moments when the season comes to life and that’s really where the magic is, being present in the here and now, simply being in ‘La Saison’.

Nappalachia is the sister brand to La Saison. The name reflects our sense of humor as the shop is not on Main Street, rather in ‘Appalachia’. I was born in West Virginia as well which is truly Appalachia, so it seemed to be fitting and funny! The original concept for the shop was conceived during 2015 when my really good friend was battling for her life and I jumped along for the ride. I was introduced to an incredible line of superfoods and herbs. I also started to practice mindfulness.

On a trip to Paris, Jonathan and I realized how much could be delivered in a small space. We returned from our trip and opened our little corner shop specializing in wellness. We believe there is just as much healing power in Reishi as there is in a Salted Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookie. Both are made with good intention and when ingested in a space of gratitude can offer similar responses.

Nappalachia is continually evolving and very much community driven. Currently, it is taking on a new role offering a platform for our team members to test out new ideas. Our BBQ program is a great example of this. One of our teammates is super passionate for authentic BBQ. Nappalachia offers him the opportunity to test recipes and share with the community. We eliminate the hassles and overhead burdens for small start-ups through offering a platform for our staff to launch from. This way they can focus in on what drives their creativity.

Another example is with our bone broth. I recently gave birth to our first son and our bone broth was born out of needing something nourishing pre and postpartum. Whenever I hear of a new local mommy, I try to make an effort to drop off some of our bone broth. It’s incredibly healing.

SDS: We’ve had the honor of trying the Nappalachia cookie and holy smokes it was incredible. How much of your brand is shippable and how much remains in Napa?

NN: We ship all of the tried and true products that people have sampled and enjoyed over the years. Everything we offer online is fantastic. In addition to our three different flavors of cookies, we also sell and ship our olive oil roasted almonds, sweet and savory granolas and citrus scented olive oil cake. If you have or know of a hot sauce lover, the Nik-Sa sauce should not be overlooked. All priced items online include shipping anywhere in the US!

Nappalachia Cookie, Courtesy of Natalie Niksa

SDS: Tell us more about your future plans for Nappalachia! You had mentioned pop-ups and much more.

NN: We never intended for Nappalachia to be a full-time retail shop, it’s always been a pop-up style concept to see what the community gravitates towards. I am excited for future workshops like our Full Moon Salad Bar. I REALLY love a good salad – and when I say salad, I’m talking about a popcorn sized bowl of gorgeous local greens with delicious dressings, vegetables that are cut right, seeded nut crumbles that add crunch and so much flavor and excitement I could burst! The idea behind the full moon is that it’s a perfect time to set intentions and hold one another accountable as a community, connected through the nourishment of local food.

SDS: What are you most looking forward to in 2019?

NN: Our top three projects are:

  1. Our full moon salad bar (mentioned above).
  2. The Napa Cookie Connect. I love the human connection and believe that cookies should be shared during celebrations as well as during times when a gentle reminder is needed that someone is being thought of. The simplest of gestures can make someone’s day. I am hopeful that our community will spread the cookie love by gifting others in our community whether it be for something in particular or just because. From our schools, hospitals, co-workers… everyone loves cookies and ours happen to be the #bestnapacookie.
  3. I am working on a sweeter version of our locally famous savory almonds. People have been asking for years if we offer other flavors and maybe, just maybe, we finally will be able to say yes.

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