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By Norb Garrett

Gus’s Fresh Jerky shop is known to just about anyone who has driven up to Mammoth Lakes for a weekend of fishing, fun on the snow or a quiet getaway. Now, thanks to Gus Niepagen’s 27-year-old daughter, Nancy Niepagen, the legendary jerky, dried fruit, honey, stuffed olives and nuts shop has a San Clemente home, too.

Located at 131 Avenida Del Mar, Unit C, the shop opened its doors on Feb. 12 and has been slowly but steadily building its customer base.

“Business is picking up,” said Nancy Niepagen, the youngest of Gus’s four daughters, who learned the trade while working for her dad in the family’s shop in tiny Olancha, California, which has a population of 229 and is located on U.S. Route 395 along the road up to Mammoth Lakes.

The elder Niepagen immigrated from Argentina at the age of 20, eventually starting a jerky and dried fruit stand in Olancha on weekends. It was so popular, he relocated the family from Las Vegas to Olancha and bought the building he’s still in today.

Nancy Niepagen recently opened a downtown San Clemente location for Gus’s Fresh Jerky. She learned the business while working for her dad since the age of 5 in the family’s famous jerky store in Olancha, California. Photo: Norb Garrett

The new local business owner credits her dad for her entrepreneurial spirit, and her mom, Nancy, for her organizational skills.

“I remember the day I got the keys to the store, and it was an empty space,” she said. “I laid down on the floor, looked around, and for a second thought to myself, ‘Oh, boy, what have I gotten into?’ But then I got to work, drove over to Lowe’s to buy racks, and it’s slowly coming together.”

Nancy’s husband, Sheldon Adam, is a U.S. Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton. The couple moved to Oceanside in 2019. She said she thought about opening the store in San Clemente when she did research and saw how successful other “unique” stores in San Clemente have been, such as Rocket Fizz, the candy store just a few shops up the street.

She’s counting on building a new clientele of jerky fans while tapping into those who already know the brand, and has added a few special items not available at her dad’s store in Olancha or his other stores in Arizona.

“Cowboy Beef Jerky and Sweet & Spicy are the most popular jerkies,” she said, noting that all of the jerkies are USDA-approved meats and her father’s recipes. “But unlike my Dad’s store, we also have Vegan Jerky and an expanded line of local honey, stuffed olives and specialties like Dirty Martini juice and Chimichurri sauce.”

While most of the jerky is made from beef, she also offers elk, venison and turkey varieties.

The store is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. and on weekends (Friday through Sunday) from 10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.

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