Jena Trzaskalski currently lives in a small trailer parked outside her home with three dogs and three other people. About a week ago, she found out her home had been spared from the Camp Fire’s mass destruction throughout Butte County and drove straight to her driveway. She can’t actually go inside, though. The smoke damage is so bad that she’s guessing she won’t be able to live there again until March.
But at least it still stands. That can’t be said for her restaurant, Green Paradise Cafe.
“I owned a small, organic, healthy cafe,” she says. “I made everything from scratch: dinner, school lunches. I was the little hub of the healthy part of this community.”
Like most of Paradise, it’s gone.
“Everyone I know lost their homes and businesses,” Traskalski says. “The whole town was wiped out in less than two hours.”
Now, Traskalski is trying to move on. Before her cafe burned down, she had been looking to grow into a larger location down the street. She’d purchased a fixer-upper and was slowly working on it; that building has survived the fire with just 30 percent damage, she says. Beyond that, she knows nothing about what the future will bring.
“I’m brainstorming,” she says. “It’s just been so hard mourning through this process and worrying through everything to stay focused.”
She launched a crowdfunding campaign in the hopes of raising $150,000 to get Green Paradise Cafe 2.0 up and running by the time Paradise opens again. And she’s starting to reach out to people like Oakland’s Tu David Phu, the former Top Chef contestant, who is in the process of fundraising for her cafe as well. She wants to continue what she did at the original Green Paradise Cafe, which was to serve vegan, gluten-free, paleo, and other organic meals for folks with dietary needs — people flocked there for her quiches, sandwiches on freshly baked focaccia, salads, and rice bowls. From there, she wants to expand with a delivery service, more grab-and-go options, and cooking classes for the community.
“Mostly I want to be able to cater to everyone,” she says. “I want to have all types of food for all walks of life. I want vegans and gluten-free eaters to feel safe. I want it to be a hub for people to go to and feel good at.”
But Traskalski also doesn’t want to wait — potentially a year or more — until the town opens again. She’s contemplating a food truck, “so at least when people are rebuilding and they’re opening the town, I’m there to feed everyone,” she says. “I’m still going to feed people through that process. That’s my way of seeing the light through the tunnel.”
While many former Paradise residents are looking to start over elsewhere, Traskalski is determined to stick it out for good.
“I feel like my home was spared to be here,” she says. “Why else would I have this home in this ghost town?”