Jenny Luna
Special to the Sun

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September 11, 2013
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Meet Your Merchant: After a decade on the race track, Za’s Jonny Roscher comes home

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — After a decade on the road with the John Force Racing drag team, chef Jonny Roscher is back in his old restaurant, cooking in his own kitchen.

Jonny reopened Za’s in late June with some new menu items and a new look.

The restaurant’s green shag carpet and Formica tables have given way to new murals, porcelain tile floors, and 100-year-old refurbished barn doors.

“I tried to open it up and make it a little more airy,” Jonny said of the updated lighting and painting.

BACK IN THE KITCHEN

Having a kitchen again is a luxury for Jonny. For 30 weeks out of the year, he cooked two meals per day for 60-120 people. While other teams had kitchen trailers, Jonny cooked, grilled, and baked right near the pit, 20 feet from the cars.

“He had outdoor kitchen atmosphere,” said Jill Prock, wife of racer Jimmy Prock. “He’d do it on the back of the bus.”

Jonny made Midwest favorites like green bean casserole, homemade macaroni and cheese, prime rib and grits on a propane grill and a Cajun Burner. Jonny did it all, each race weekend, from the shopping to the cleaning, to being a good friend.

“I was kind of a bartender. Guys would come up and talk to me,” he said.

Jill said the team is hungry without him, now that he left to open Za’s.

“He took good care of us,” she said. “He was their friend, their mother, their chef, and a shoulder to lean on.”

PART OF THE TEAM

Johnny drove the tour bus and kept the team fed — win or lose. Although not mechanically inclined and often teased for it, he said he’s now and forever a part of John Force Racing team.

“In life you have a passion and a love for that passion,” he said. “I had the passion and love for the team and I have the same thing here. I feel like the people that come in here are on my team.”

Jonny toured the country with what he calls the “traveling circus” of two trailers, eight semis, a bus, a van, and four explorers. But he knew life on the road couldn’t be forever.

“When you live out of a suitcase it sounds glamorous, but it’s not,” he said.

Although his work at Za’s isn’t any easier, he’s glad to be back in Tahoe City.

“I’ve looked all over the county and I don’t think there’s a place that’s better than Tahoe City,” he said. “The people in this town are incredible. We always seem to rally around everybody else.”

Jonny has teamed up with Pete N Peter’s. The bar will serve Za’s food and the two locales will work together to offer a Sunday brunch. Being part of a team is something Jonny said will always be important to him.

“The biggest thing that translates is that you’re a team — one guy can’t win a race, and one cook can’t do everything,” he said. “And if you don’t work as a team, you flounder.”

FOREVER FANS

Jonny has declined the team’s offer to go back to cook, but he follows the races like the avid fan he is. Now Jonny has fans that follow him.

When eight crew chiefs came from Indianapolis to Sonoma, they made a special trip to Tahoe City. Jonny’s friends parked the 18-wheelers in The Pfeifer House parking lot and headed to Za’s for breakfast.

Jill said she and her family, along with some other teammates, are planning on visiting their favorite chef this November.

“We miss him so much,” she said. “We all have to come to have a home cooked meal.”

With a remodeled interior and a revamped menu, Jonny is excited to be back in Tahoe City.

“I had the passion and love for the team and I have the same thing here. I feel like the people that come in here are on my team.”
– Jonny Roscher


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Sep 12, 2013 08:33PM Published Sep 23, 2013 05:30PM Copyright 2013 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.