LOCAL JUICE MAKER BRANCHING OUT

October 27, 2019 12:00 AM

Susan and Gary Snow have poured just about everything into their cherry juice, and after more than a decade of operating Tabletree, they are finally seeing the fruits of their labors.

“There isn’t a mile we drive that isn’t for business somehow,” Gary said, as Susan added: “We’re almost up and over the hump.”

The Snows inherited a family tradition of growing fruit and selling juice when they launched Tabletree in Creston, British Columbia, in 2008. By 2010, Susan’s family had been running a cherry farm there for 100 years, and Gary’s great-grandfather George once operated a grape juice business in upstate New York that was acquired by Welch’s in 1902.

They moved to the Flathead Valley in 2015 and have now reached a point where they’re starting to expand into bigger commercial markets and new international locations.

“We started as growers,” Susan said. “We’ve been through all the different sides of [the industry]. It’s not your typical story.”

Over the years, Tabletree has earned international awards for its cherry juice and innovation awards for groundbreaking equipment. The company’s use of Flathead Valley cherries and special machinery the Snows designed personally sets their products apart from other juices.

Gary said Tabletree cherry juice is “unlike any other out there.”

“It’s a fuller-bodied juice. It actually tastes like a cherry,” he explained. Most other cherry juices are watery, made of multiple fruits and sourced from sour, rather than sweet cherries. “It’s unique to the juice industry.”

But despite the accolades and international success, Susan admitted “it’s been a ride. Any small business knows you’ve got to keep pushing. To keep it going, it’s difficult, like any manufacturing.”

When heavy rainfall devastated their Canadian crop, the Snows were forced to sell the historic family farm without any leads on a new home.

“We decided to sell the farm on a Sunday, and on Tuesday we got a call” from a Flathead cherry grower, Gary remembered. The fortuitous turn of events led the Snows to put down new roots at a processing plant in Finley Point where Tabletree cherry juice is now made.

“We’ve had a long journey,” Susan said. “There are always thoughts of quitting and doing something else.”

But she insisted the couple has fun despite the challenges, and the support from the local community and Montana in general has been crucial to Tabletree’s success.

“The support we got when we first moved was incredible,” she remembered. “It’s amazing what they do for small business here.”

Montana West Economic Development, the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association and the Mission Mountain Education Center have sustained Tabletree and helped the small business branch out.

“We’re talking to some big box stores,” Susan was excited to report. “And we have a lot of interest from overseas. There’s interest from India in doing a private label there.”

“And we’re getting into more different products that we can make in winter,” Gary noted. They pride themselves on using only fresh fruit, which means their cherry juice production goes dormant for large portions of the year. Experimenting with different fruits and other concoctions would allow Tabletree to be more active throughout the year.

If the anticipated developments come to fruition, however, “we would have to increase our production significantly,” Susan said.

Gary added, “We need someone with more business savvy because we’re working with the big boys now.”

As one of the self-identified “smaller-scale manufacturers” in the Flathead, they currently operate a “pretty simple process” involving 12 seasonal employees in their Finley Point food processing plant.

Though they are aware of potential difficulties that could come with expansion, they don’t believe staffing would be one of them.

“We call ourselves a box of broken toys,” she said of the Tabletree team, which is made up of some unconventional employees with “funky schedules,” family obligations or histories of legal trouble. “Why not hire from that group of people that are hard to employ? Be flexible.”

It’s worth it, Gary explained, because “it’s not just about us. It’s about the employees, the cherry growers and the community.”

Tabletree cherry juice and other products are available in stores around the valley and online at https://tabletreejuice.com/

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at bserbin@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.