Keeping it local: A look at some Incline Village businesses that are being passed down to younger generations
Special to the Bonanza
This is the first in a two-part series featuring several family owned Incline Village businesses that are being passed down to the family’s younger generation to operate. We will feature Part 2 next week at SierraSun.com.
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Locals know that Incline Village is a small place where everybody knows your name. And anywhere you grow up, it’s understandable to want to leave when you graduate high school.
But for a handful of individuals who grew up in the family business, they soon found their way back to the lake.
Here’s a look at what a few Incline High School graduates are doing now:
T’s Mesquite Rotisserie: Jamie Swing, IHS Class of 2001
Jamie Swing is on the phone with Google trying to fix a bogus online website listing. As Incline locals know, the widely popular restaurant doesn’t even accept credit cards, let alone have a website.
“We’re pretty low-key,” Swing says.
T’s Mesquite Rotisserie has been around for 25 years, ever since Jamie was 7 years old. His dad, Chuck, saw a vacant space right next to a 7-Eleven where people were constantly going in and coming out with hot dogs and other quick food.
Chuck instantly realized there was a market for fast food in Incline, and a Mexican food joint may work well at the location at located at 901 Tahoe Blvd. The family moved from Santa Barbara to Incline Village, and when Jamie turned 15, he started managing the rotisserie (which was then out in the parking lot) and working the cash register.
After graduating high school, Jamie received his AA degree from Truckee Meadows Community College with a focus in business management.
“I lived in Reno for six months, but still always worked here,” he says.
He eventually moved back to Incline and continues working at T’s full-time (you’ve probably seen him there).
“My dad is pretty handy; he’ll fix anything that is broken, but you’ll never see him behind the cash register,” Jamie says.
Menath Insurance: Scott Menath, IHS Class of 2004
Mike Menath built his home in Incline Village, moved into it and started Menath Insurance in 1981.
He raised three boys — one of them being Scott Menath. Graduating from Incline High School in 2004, Scott went on to study political science at a liberal arts college in San Diego.
He received his degree in 2008, the year of the recession, so Scott found himself in Omaha, Neb., where the jobs were. Although he was previously resistant to working in the insurance business, he took a job with an insurance provider to try it out before ruling it out as a career choice.
“But I found out that I loved it; insurance is my passion,” Scott said.
After living in Omaha and New England, Scott found his way back to Incline Village in 2012 with his wife. He says that since Menath Insurance is locally owned and operated, the business at 333 Village Blvd., is firmly embedded in the community.
“Whenever you move away from Lake Tahoe, you always have a beautiful reason to come back,” Scott added.
Mofo’s Pizza: Justin Morrison, IHS Class of 2005
“Mofo’s is older than I am,” Justin Morrison says of the pizzeria that has been around the Incline community since 1986.
Morrison bought the restaurant that he grew up in from his dad in spring of 2015 and works 80-hour weeks to keep the place humming.
Although the term “Mofo’s” is a popular slang term, his dad John named the restaurant to mean “Mo’ Fo’ Your Money.” Justin believes that Mofo’s, located in the Christmas Tree Village, is still the fairest priced pizza in town.
When Justin left Incline High School, he originally went for a career in the auto industry, but he “didn’t see a future in that so I came back to the restaurant business.”
When John Morrison sold the business to Justin, he quickly opened a pizzeria in Colorado Springs and is managing it over there.
“He took the money and ran,” Justin jokingly says.
When Justin started operating Mofo’s himself, the pizzeria expanded its hours to serve lunch six days a week and dinner seven days a week (the restaurant’s former limited hours used to be one of the most prominent customer complaints).
Justin also facilitated a full remodel in May 2015; he put in new lighting fixtures to brighten up the room, antiqued the wood chairs, remodeled the bathrooms, and rearranged the kitchen in a format to be able to keep up with the demand.
The newly remodeled Mofo’s also features art by the Morrisons — wood carvings by John and enlarged photos of Lake Tahoe by Justin.
With the changes that Justin implemented, the summer of 2015 proved to be the restaurant’s biggest year ever.
“And we’ve been growing significantly,” Justin said.
The transition also went pretty well since he recognizes most of his customers from growing up in Incline.
“My best friend and I used to build tree forts in the woods behind the restaurant,” he said.
Justin says that his biggest challenge is doing everything himself. He manages a staff of 22 part-time employees and three full-time employees, while also doing the bookkeeping, payroll and general operations.
“I learned by doing it; I went to school for auto repair at TMCC, but found that I like the restaurant business a lot better. I like talking to people and not always having greasy hands,” he says.
Azzara’s Italian Restaurant: Andrea Azzara Gitchell, IHS Class of 2000
Sam Azzara opened his first Italian restaurant in 1956 in Stanton, Calif., before moving up to Incline Village in 1978. Owning the restaurant just shy of 30 years, the now 81-year-old Sam Azzara was looking to get out of the business.
Thankfully, his youngest daughter, Andrea, decided to take it over in October 2006.
“I loved the restaurant business; I grew up in it,” she says during a recent interview, now 10 years later.
Right after she graduated high school, Andrea went to University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she studied culinary management and hospitality, but found that she enjoyed the cooking classes the most.
“I started in the back of the house when I was nine or 10 years old, cutting garlic bread and romaine lettuce; bussing tables,” Andrea says.
She said her older sister shied away from the restaurant business, trying everything else out in the meantime, but Andrea thrived on it.
“I couldn’t get enough of it,” she says of hospitality and the restaurant business.
Andrea was a hostess at Azzara’s throughout high school, but after graduating, she still felt the need to leave Incline Village for a little while before she could come back and appreciate it.
“Incline is very hard for a young, single person,” she says.
As her aging father was itching to retire, Andrea graduated UNLV in four years and took a corporate management job at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe in Incline, hoping that she could travel more.
Sam Azzara started giving up on the hope that Andrea would take over the business, and started trying to sell the place. Andrea and her husband moved to Sparks and she commuted to the Hyatt/Lone Eagle Grille.
However, in 2006 Andrea had her first child, so she decided to leave her career. A few months later, her dad called and asked if she knew of anyone who could possibly be interested in buying Azzara’s.
Out of nowhere — and naturally rolling off the tip of her tongue — Andrea asked, “What about me?
Her dad was thrilled. “My father and I always had a great relationship,” Andrea says.
Andrea and her husband soon started infiltrating themselves into the business, taking over Azzara’s in October 2006 and moving back to Incline Village where they also raise their three children.
Two years ago, Azzara’s went through a hefty remodel.
“Azzara’s used to have bright colors painted on the walls, tall Venetian pillars, lots of flowers, it looked very ‘80s,” Andrea said. “One customer said, ‘it looks so Miami Vice in here.’”
So the couple took out the pillars to open up the space, put in granite tables, and worked with her uncle to get huge family portraits up on Azzara’s walls.
Andrea said she is lucky the economy has bounced back quite a bit since tanking not long after she took over the business, which is located on the Raley’s shopping center.
“I loved growing up here — I just wasn’t ready to take over the business when my dad wanted me to,” she said. “Everyone is so connected. Some people say that you can’t go to Raley’s in your pajamas because you’ll run into five people you know — but I don’t mind that.”
Kayla Anderson is an Incline Village-based freelance writer with a background in marketing and journalism. She loves sharing stories about Lake Tahoe and her community. Have a story idea? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.