Crank up the heat: Tahoe restaurants preparing for winter amid COVID-19
Special to the Sierra Sun
As temperatures cool and people pull out their winter jackets, restaurants around the Lake Tahoe Basin are preparing for winter.
With uncertainty about what the state of COVID will be in the winter, restaurants are preparing to continue outdoor dining even after the snow begins to fall.
On the South Shore, the South Lake Tahoe Restaurant Association has been holding regular meetings to share ideas on how to get ready. According to the Tahoe Chamber, members of the city council, planning division and the fire department have been attending the meetings to give support to restaurants.
“It’s great to see everyone working collaboratively,” said Annie Handrick, communications and marketing coordinator with the Tahoe Chamber.
The city council recently approved the Winter Operations COVID Compliance Business Protection Grant Reimbursement Program which offers businesses up to $5,000 of reimbursement for heaters, tents, tables and other winter operations needs.
“We know small businesses are what keep our city running and we are committed to doing everything we can to help them through the pandemic,” said City Manager Joe Irvin. “Council is being creative and finding new ways to help. This program is a clear sign of that.”
Truckee has also been flexible with businesses setting up outdoor dining and has also provided grants. Businesses in Tahoe City have also received help.
“Placer County and North Tahoe Fire have waived fees related to temporary tent structures at this time to encourage winter outdoor dining,” said Kylee Bigelow, executive director of the Tahoe City Downtown Association.
Even with support of local agencies and communities, restaurant owners are nervous about the unknowns to come.
“We’re all going into the abyss,” said Debbie Brown, owner of Coldwater Brewery and Grill in South Lake Tahoe.
Cold Water Brewery and Grill
Brown was fortunate enough to have a large parking lot to use for outdoor dining and has recently broken down her summer set-up in exchange for her winter set-up.
“I tried to be ahead of what’s coming down the pipe,” Brown said.
Brown now has 10 firepits and nine heaters and she has also set up wood fencing with large wooden rounds on each side, to protect guests from vehicles possibly sliding in the icy parking lot. Brown designed the setup herself and was able to maintain a comfortable atmosphere inside and out.
Even though Brown is “trepidatious,” going into the winter, she’s taking this opportunity for Cold Water to celebrate the change in weather.
Cold Water currently is operating at 50% capacity inside but she said customers still prefer to be outside when possible. But once winter hits, Brown said she feels like she will be essentially running two operations between the indoor and outdoor seating.
“It’s a whole different regiment, servers are going to have to dress in outdoor gear, and they are going to have to be shoveling snow,” Brown said, also adding that the propane will have to be taken care of as well.
Working with the fire department and the city, Brown said she was told she could either have tented in dining or heating but not both.
“It doesn’t snow everyday but it’s cold everyday,” Brown said, explaining why she went with the fire pits and heaters.
Although Cold Water is in a location that allows for the expanded outdoor dining, Brown feels for the restaurants that don’t have that luxury and says business is likely to change drastically over the next six weeks for everyone.
“I wish us all luck that we make it to the otherside,” Brown said.
Moody’s Bistro Bar & Beats
Moody’s is a staple of Downtown Truckee and they were lucky enough to have space to build an outdoor dining stage to help them get through the summer.
The stage area allowed them to have outdoor dining while maintaining Moody’s atmosphere with lights, curtains and plants.
Now, JJ Morgan, Managing Partner at Moody’s, said they are working to make the space as hospitable for the winter.
Morgan said they are adding a solid roof, one wall and heaters, adding that grants from the city helped them build that structure.
He doesn’t think this winter will be too significantly different from a normal winter.
“Even in a normal winter, we were slow or not open during a white-out blizzard so I’m sure there will be days this year when we don’t open the outdoor dining,” Morgan said.
Lake Tahoe AleWorX
AleWorX owner and founder Luca Genasci is also worried about what the winter will bring.
His location at “Y” has a fairly expansive patio setup with heaters and fire pits.
“We’re going to continue utilizing that to the best of our abilities but sometimes Mother Nature has different ideas,” Genasci said.
Like Morgan, Genasci said on really snowy days, business is already slow, so he doesn’t expect to see much of a difference there.
“But on nice, sunny, post-storm days, you can expect the patio to be operating on all cylinders,” Genasci said.
With mountain capacity being limited at Heavenly, Genasci thinks businesses all around town will see a boost from people who came up not realizing they couldn’t get on the mountain. He will especially like to see that increase at his Stateline location, which he said always sees a boost when skiing at Heavenly is limited by storms and windholds.
The downside is that they are still limited by the 50% capacity limits and one of his major concerns going into the winter is a rollback on restrictions.
Still, Genasci is hopeful things will continue to reopen.
Alibi Ale Works
Alibi co-owner Rich Romo didn’t have to worry about getting just one location COVID compliant, he had to get both the Truckee and the two Incline Village locations ready.
“Before COVID, it was come as you are, sit with people you don’t know, make new friends which is the total anti-COVID model,” Romo said. “So it was a little bit more difficult to start because it just wasn’t the way we did things at all.”
Now, they have full table service down in the beer garden and Romo said the Incline location has the large yard they’ve landscaped which he says is great for social distancing. But even with grants for outdoor seating equipment, Romo said it’s going to be a huge financial impact to get the spaces winter ready.
At the Truckee location, he is looking to buy metal gazebos that can hold up to 5,000 pounds of snow. Although on really snow days, the staff will have to stay on top of clearing the snow. To get all three locations ready, Romo estimates it will cost about $250,000.
COVID has provided another interesting challenge for Alibi. The brewery normally provides tons of kegs to Northstar California but now that the resort is moving to grab-n-go, Romo said they are going to have to substantially up their canning process.
However, Romo said that might be a benefit because the margins are higher on cans then kegs.
Alibi has started a GoFundMe to help them raise the money to get winter ready and it raised $11,000 on the first day.
“We’re setting our sights high and hoping the community will rally around us,” Romo said.
Alibi has always been a place that prides itself on giving back to the community so if they exceed their fundraising goal, Romo said they will give excess funds to local nonprofits.
Romo urges the community to not just help them but all the businesses in the community.
“I would just say, people should try to support them whenever they can, it’s going to get really difficult for some of these businesses and a lot of them are friends,” Romo said.
To donate, visit gofundme.com/alibialeworks.
Laney Griffo is a reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun.
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With the economy in California opened back up, businesses throughout the region are finding it difficult to attract employees.