Strawhouse Resort and Cafe in Big Flat
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Take a Road Trip
By Sandie Tillery
Photos by Ronda Alvey
Drive a little distance from Redding along Highway 299 to the west and before long, the Trinity River demands attention as the winding road skirts the river and sidles up against the Trinity Alps. It’s a glorious drive through deep canyons that, in places, spreads out into loosely connected communities with homes hiding on the hillsides and sparse businesses to serve them.
About halfway between Redding and Arcata, the little village of Big Flat opens up to a sudden surprise just around one more bend as Strawhouse Resorts and Cafe comes into view. With its landscape of carefully tended gardens and lawns on both sides of the highway, the maturing vacation and event destination is for many an unexpected discovery. For many others, it is a frequent and favorite destination.
Abundant bird species serenade from nearby shade trees while the Trinity River crashes along at the edge of the lawn with a thick forest rising from its opposite bank. The air freshens from the cool of the river and the fragrance of pine trees. The subtle smell of organic coffee, roasted on site, and wood-fired pizzas in the oven settles in among quiet conversations on the patio that spread out from the cafe. From sunrise to sunset, mountain shadows ebb and wane, transforming the setting from moment to moment.
Don Ellis built the cafe, a true straw bale building, and opened for business in 2000. He and wife Julia have labored in love, sweat and tears to give their dream substance. The vision has expanded and blossomed to include beautifully appointed cottages and a yurt, RV hookups, a full-blown coffee roasting operation, and a restaurant that majors on healthy and clean foods and juices, along with specialty coffees. The cafe features and sells the work of local artists and craftspeople inside and out.
Don and Julia often join their regular guests who either live in the area or frequently travel between the North Coast and Redding for a brief sit-down and respite. With a loyal and well-trained staff, they make guests feel comfortable and welcome. They periodically schedule specialty classes covering everything from native herbal remedies to mosaic and jewelry making workshops.
Spectacular views and food that rivals upscale urban restaurants have drawn a growing clientele from around the world, many of whom have become return guests who enjoy a peaceful getaway far from the loud demands of their daily lives. Guests can simply enjoy their peaceful accommodations or choose to fish from the riverbank or with a guide, take a day hike or use the resort as a launch pad for a more intense backpacking trip into the Trinity Wilderness Area. Strawhouse Resorts has become a popular event venue for weddings, reunions and retreats.
The Ellises are intimately involved in their community, helping to boost tourism and providing job opportunities. “Don wants everybody to succeed together,” says Brianna Carreira, who has appreciated the encouragement she and husband Matt have received from the Ellises as they have built their businesses over the past six years. Proprietors of both Bigfoot Rafting and Steelhead Cottages in Big Flat, they work together with the Ellises to promote the resources and activities in their community. The couples have been working on extending hiking trails around their properties to encourage visitors to stay instead of just taking the jog inland as a stop-over for the rest of their vacation.
The Ellises also work with other North State businesses. Samuel and Leah Furey of Country Organics enjoy a close relationship with the Ellises due to their shared passion for excellence, and they feature Strawhouse coffee in their store. The Ellises in turn purchase produce from Country Organics for the cafe.
Kaleidoscope Coffee Company, with three locations in Redding and Anderson, carries its own label of carefully crafted organic coffee roasted especially for them by Strawhouse. Owners Dan and Mimi Burton work closely with the Ellises to produce an excellent coffee they are proud to serve. Dan says, “Don taught us everything we know about the craft of coffee. They may be suppliers, but we consider them partners.”
The Ellises have created a little paradise in what may seem like the middle of nowhere, or as Don would say, “the middle of everywhere.”
Strawhouse Resort and Cafe • 31301 State Hwy 299, Big Flat
(530) 623-1990 • strawhouseresorts.com