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C CASA, an innovative taqueria, opened in the Oxbow Public Market in May of last year. It is said that consumers vote with their feet, and the vote for C CASA is a stampede. People love the food, and first-time diners quickly become regulars.

Owner Catherine Bergen said her philosophy for C CASA is simple: “All our food has to be delicious, nutritious— and addictive.” None of her recipes use butter or processed sugar, and all are gluten-free. Still, in order to pass muster with her, “Everything has to taste fantastic.”

Bergen has wanted to open a healthy, gourmet taqueria for 25 years. It just took her time, a lot of jobs in between and moving to Napa for it to happen.

“My dad teases me that I’ve got more licenses than anyone he knows,”  Bergen laughed. “Among other things I’m a licensed dog groomer, beautician and bartender.” Her dad always hoped Bergen would join him as a business partner, but she wanted work that would allow her to express her creative side, and to be involved with food.    

Bergen grew up in Southern California, and decided in the early 1990s that it was time for a change. She looked at Napa, Santa Fe and Santa Barbara. She chose Napa, but admits that she wondered why she had for the first several years she was here.

“I just had to get my bearings,” she said. She got them, and decided to launch a business selling etched olive oil decanters with winery logos on them, for which she started Tulocay and Co. in 1993. She added balsamic vinegar to the line, and worked to make the new company grew. Her products went national when Crate & Barrel, Cost Plus and World Market picked them up.

In 2001, she launched Made in Napa Valley, with products evoking the valley. She took 40 of her new products to the New York Fancy Food Show, the Oscars in the food world, taking runner up for outstanding new product line. Heady stuff, especially since she hadn’t  started selling the products.

The businesses continued to grow. Bergen was approached about selling, and decided to do so in 2008. Some might have contemplated retirement, and Bergen did take it easy for a while, at least by her standards, but planning for C CASA began almost immediately. Her commitment to flavor and the best ingredients available made it challenging to craft a menu with great tasting food that is affordable, but she stuck to her guns. C CASA’s track record this past year shouts of her success in meeting both goals.

C CASA began serving breakfast in November, and it is delicious as well. The core menu is now in place, but Bergen is expanding her baked goods. New offerings like cornmeal scones and apple empanadas made from brown rice and oats, apples and coconut sugar, will adhere to her no-butter, no-sugar, gluten-free standard.

“Not everything is going to be super low-fat,” Bergen said of her menu, “but everything will be delicious and nutritious.”  Bergen is growing chilies in the COPIA gardens, and at customers’ requests will soon offer C CASA hot sauce. “People will be able to take a little C CASA home with them.”

Bergen emphasized repeatedly that none of the success of C CASA would be possible without her staff, whose praises she sings constantly, or her local customers.

“I can’t believe how supportive Napans have been, and I can’t thank them enough,” she said. She has been approached about opening in other cities, but says she wants to grow “healthy, not crazy.” Besides, she may have had trouble settling here initially, but Napa is now in her blood.

“This is my home.”

C CASA is open daily, 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. for breakfast and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. for lunch/dinner. 610 First St. in the Oxbow Public Market. 226-7700. Check out the recipe at myccasa.com.

See you downtown!

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Napa Downtown Association, and can be reached at craig@napadowntown.com

or 257-0322.

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