Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Right now, every day is hectic for mandarin growers

Cathie Anderson
Cathie Anderson

If you visit a Placer County mandarin grower only for Orchard Days, then you might well believe that a sudden onslaught of visitors is shaking up their quiet country existence.

Crazy is the norm for these citrus growers during the months of November, December and January. At Mandarin Hill Orchards, just a twist and a turn away from Del Oro High School, alum Tom Aguilar is multi-tasking in the break room of his solar-powered production shed. While fielding questions, he helps an employee sort through a problem with a tablet computer and excuses himself to take a customer call. Just outside the door, some workers are sorting and packaging clementines and satsumas, while others are helping retail customers.

“We give a lot of fruit to the Senior Gleaners in Sacramento County, and we give a lot of fruit to the Placer Food Bank, so … this morning, they both showed up at the same time,” Aguilar said. “I’m sure they know about each other, but it’s just the first time it ever happened where both of them were here at the same time, and about an hour ago, we had the Raley’s truck out here and the parking lot was all jammed up.”

So this weekend, if you want to ask Aguilar why the branches of his mandarin trees appear to have extra rootstocks growing into the ground, feel free. He’s accustomed to multi-tasking, and you might learn something that will save a mature fruit tree in your yard. A few years back, you see, Aguilar saw signs that the nutrients that his trees needed were being choked off at the original grafting point.

“When the nutrients come to this S-curve, they can’t move and the tree starts choking,” he said. “It’s also choking the roots off, so nutrients can’t get from the leaf to the roots. ... What we do is we make a capital U, just through the bark (of a branch), and then you lift that flap up, and you take a seedling and cut the top like an arrowhead, and you shove it up in there, and you fold the flap back down and you wrap it with some plastic to hold it in there. And, two weeks later, the seedling is either growing or it’s dead.”

For a map and other information on Orchard Days, visit

Taste of success

The Cheema family of Roseville opened their third and largest India Oven restaurant in October at 6105 Sunrise Vista Drive in Citrus Heights, and in that same building, they have also constructed a chic banquet facility that can seat 1,000.

Looking at the space, no one could guess its previous occupant.

“This building used to be a Pep Boys,” said co-owner Rummy Cheema. “We modified everything. This side, where the restaurant is, used to be where they pulled the cars in. We built all the windows and changed that side over there to the restaurant.”

Cheema owns the restaurant company with his family – dad Sarjeet Cheema, mom Kamaljit Cheema and wife Rajdeep Cheema. Rummy Cheema also gives a lot of credit to his sister, Sharandeep Nijjar, for helping them get the business established.

The Cheemas’ first restaurant was called Shalimar, and it opened in downtown Roseville near the Tower Theatre in 2000. It didn’t get as much traffic as the family wanted, so they sold it and opened their first India Oven in 2004 in Grass Valley. A second followed in Natomas. Both of those were around 2,000 square feet. The newest India Oven has 3,000 square feet, Cheema said, and the White Lotus banquet facility has 11,000.

Her post-college crush

Suzanne LoCoco grew up working in her family’s Bay Area restaurant, but she is now selling Veronica Foods’ olive oils at Villa Sicilia, 2600 Fair Oaks Blvd.

LoCoco told me she never really liked working in restaurants, but her dad had trained her as a chef and she remained in the industry for more than 20 years. Her last venture was La Fornaretta restaurant in Newcastle, which she founded with her husband. After a divorce, though, LoCoco went back to school at California State University, Sacramento, got a sociology degree and looked for something new.

“I graduated and thought, ‘OK, now I’m going to go get a job,’ she said. “Well, try getting a job when you’re 46 years old, you’ve only been self-employed in the restaurant business, and you have a sociology degree.”

About a year earlier, her brother’s wife had introduced her to olive oils from Veronica Foods. LoCoco began cooking with them, and at the back of her mind, she thought, if she didn’t get the right job, she would use some of her savings and open a store selling them.

“Veronica Foods is actually where I buy all my olive oil and balsamics from,” she said. “They’re out of Oakland, a family-owned and -operated business that has grown exponentially. They now supply 400 stores throughout the United States and Canada. … They do a full chemical profile on every olive oil they put out. They work directly with growers and they do all the fusing and infusing of all the flavored oils.”

They pull inventory from all over the world, depending on the harvest, LoCoco said. It allows them to sell the freshest oil available because harvest dates in the Southern Hemisphere come when the U.S. is in its spring season. LoCoco posts all the crush dates.

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