#FamilyGrown Since 1948
Dick Jennings loved his Grandfather's land in Western North Carolina, covered with forests of oak, hickory, maple, and poplar, watered with two rushing streams, and with 100 acres of reasonably flat land that could be cleared.
It was 1931 when Dick first walked these streams. He wasn't barefoot, but his cheeks were tanned, and he was carrying a Prince Albert can of worms. This was unique compelling stuff for a little boy raised in Pittsburgh, compelling enough to bring the young veteran of WWII back to these mountains in 1948 to start the first commercial trout farm in the South.
This meant ignoring his deceased Father's advice, "Don't stay in these mountains, you'll starve", and it also meant dropping out of the Yale School of Engineering, where, until then, he had been an honor student. These imprudent acts were, to some extent, vindicated in the year 2001, when Dick Jennings was inducted into the Western North Carolina Agricultural Hall of Fame. Thus, the Sunburst Trout Company was born.
Beginning in 1948 as Cashiers Valley Trout Farm, supplying trout to anglers and sportsmen was okay, but the first quantum leap was to come in the late 60's when the Eskimos in Iceland were noticed to be heart disease-free. They ate fish and developed almost no harmful blood lipids. This observation caused a lot of interest in ongoing research, and trout was to become a popular seafood. Dick had by now married Frances Clark, and had three children. In 1963 he had also moved the larger operation of growing trout to Haywood County, NC, and changed the name to Jennings Trout Farm. During the 70's and early 80's, he traveled quite a lot to learn the ins and outs and also the ups and downs, of processing and displaying trout to that new and promising market. In 1985, the Jennings Trout Farm was to become Sunburst Trout Company, LLC with the arrival of daughter, Sally, and her husband, Steve Eason.
They began to grow forward. That growth meant years of hard work, and many disappointments. It also meant three additional, well chosen, production sites and a large processing facility. Dick became the in house sales rep to 8 to 10 upscale supermarket chains along the East Coast and many of the local elegant restaurants, including the renowned Biltmore Estate and the famous Grove Park Inn and Spa. By the late 20th century the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina were becoming a tourist attraction of unexpected proportions with a need for new and exciting ways to present trout.
By 2001 it was apparent Pa's strides in innovation were deserving of recognition. In May of 2001 Pa was inducted in to the WNC Agriculture Hall fo Fame. To continue his legacy of innovation, Sally's and Steve's sons Wes and Ben joined the family business full time in 2001 to make yet another generation of Jennings and Easons. Seeing there were still roles to be filled Ben’s wife Anna joined us in 2007, and from time to time you will see their three girls hanging out with the trout. To continue evolving and trying to get back to our roots in February 2011 they changed their name once again, this time to Sunburst Trout Farms, and began using the logo you see today.
By the end of 2011 we were presented with an opportunity; opening a farm store in downtown Waynesville on Montgomery Street. In October 2011 daughter Katie joined the family business to run the Sunburst Market. By 2013 it was evident this space was no longer big enough for the growing demand. Katie’s husband Clay became assistant manager and we moved to 180 N. Main Street Waynesville. After baby #2 it was decided to move the market to the processing plant and be a true farm store. We are excited to have the whole family under one roof!
We lost Steve in April 2014, and Dick (Pa) just after his 93rd birthday in 2017, but their lasting legacy within the aquaculture industry lives on.
Today Wes and Ben own the farm, and have become the #FamilyGrown face of Sunburst Trout Farms. We have also moved forward into a 12,000sqft building in the town of Waynesville that was completed in March 2016. The fish are not city folk and still live at our Lake Logan site. Our new processing facility has four indoor recirculating tanks, and with a current staff of over 25 we have grown into the second largest trout supplier in North Carolina. Our indoor recirculating tanks also gives us the opportunity to expand into agritourism for visitors and school groups. We invite you to come visit our exciting and ever growing adventure!
The techniques of smoking, boneless fillets, processing red trout, and preparing caviar, all began to expand the horizons for commercial farming at Sunburst. Soon to follow was a pate (dip). Carefully portioned pieces of the largest fattest fillets and even a presentation known as "en papillote", a French culinary concept, were also making a name for themselves. We have been able to expand our offerings to not just trout with encrusted and marinated fillets, trout jerky, but also a non trout product, pimento goat cheese that pairs perfectly with our hickory smoked trout.
Sunburst has perfected a cold smoked Scottish Trout using only top quality fillets for their new presentation. These preparations were practical only after adapting their production to a much larger trout. The resulting large trout are similar in look to salmon, but milder and more delicate.
Equipment used for processing was largely purchased in Europe because of their know how and length of time they have been perfecting the process; trout farming began there during the American Civil War. Another important reason for the success of Sunburst Trout is our loyal and extremely skilled staff. Over half of the employees have worked here for 5+ years, and every employee is considered part of the Sunburst Family.
The sophisticated equipment harnessed with the efficient staff lend credence to "doing it by hand with a technological twist" in the 21st century. Additionally, there is a growing network of sister mountain trout farms on the same water and feed for sourcing only the best rainbow trout proud to be able to become Sunburst Trout.