Alpine County is one of California’s most remote counties. On the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada and just south of Lake Tahoe, Alpine has the smallest population of any California county, with just under 1,200 residents. But it’s no tiny enclave. By comparison, Alpine County and Alameda County cover roughly the same amount of land area — about 740 square miles — but Alameda has more than 1,500 times as many residents.
There are only a handful of businesses in Alpine County — the Markleeville General Store, a coffee shop called Alps Haus Cafe and several lodging and recreation businesses. Most of Alpine’s economy relies on tourism and outdoor recreation. In the winter, ski resorts in Bear Valley and Kirkwood fill up, and in the summer, camping and fishing season sustain the local economy.
Most of the businesses are in downtown Markleeville. But, a little farther north on top of an old Pony Express stop called Woodfords Station, there’s place called the Mad Dog Cafe. Mad Dog has a deli and sells other specialty food, but that’s not their main draw.
A big chunk of Mad Dog’s customer base comes in just to play the California lottery. Owner Jennifer Quilici is able to pay most of her employee’s salaries through her lottery sales. “I generate a lot of revenue — over a million dollars a year in revenue for the Lotto and I get a commission off of that,” Quilici said.
Most of Mad Dog’s lottery customers aren’t Californians. The market is six miles from the Nevada border and since Nevada doesn’t have a state lottery, Mad Dog is the closest place for older, retired Nevadans who love to play their scratchers. Quilici said they’re reliable customers: “I hear day in and day out that they've been playing it for 30 years since it opened.”