Meet Your Merchant | From food truck to store front
Special to the Bonanza
What: Chuck Wagon of Tahoe
Location: 930 Tahoe Blvd, suite 904
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Although 2,700 miles from Philadelphia, the Turner family is serving up the city’s famous cheese steaks seven days a week at Lake Tahoe.
Grilled onion, bell peppers and mushrooms combine with melted cheese and ribeye steak on a Philly sandwich roll to create the Chuck Wagon’s most popular item.
Owner Michael Turner grew up eating authentic cheese steaks, and when designing his restaurant’s menu, the family favorite wasn’t to be left out.
Nash, Zachariah and Kaitlin Turner are Michael’s children and the main staff at Chuck Wagon of Tahoe, located in the Incline Village shopping Center (in front of Raley’s, next to RadioShack). They agree: The Philly cheese steak is a customer and staff favorite.
“We grew up eating them,” Zachariah said. “It’s not likely we’ll ever get sick of them.”
The Turner family opened Chuck Wagon last August, a quick advance from the food truck they opened in July 2012. Michael said the past months have been an adjustment period for the family, mostly learning to work in a much bigger space.
“We went from A to C so fast and had to relearn how to do things because the new space was so big,” he said, adding that one of the greatest challenges has been “losing things because the new space is so big.”
Access to the large ovens (the location used to be Arnie’s Pizza, and before that, Domino’s Pizza) has given Zachariah the opportunity to learn to make pizza and Kaitlin the freedom to start baking treats like muffins and cakes.
“I’ve wanted to make pizza for as a long as I can remember,” Zachariah said. His father said pizza is his son’s “comfort food,” and the first few months of operation was dedicated to perfecting the pizza dough.
“We muddled around and played until we got it to where we liked it and felt comfortable to sell it,” Michael said. Chuck Wagon offers eight varieties of pizza, including a Hawaiian, a veggie and a carnivore. Pizzas come in large, medium and personal sizes.
To-go orders can be called or texted in to Chuck Wagon, where service is fast, Michael said, but still fresh.
“When you order it, the meat hits the grill,” he said. “We’re take and go — but we’re not McDonald’s.”
Chuck Wagon also aims to offer affordable prices. Sandwiches range from four to eight dollars and their breakfast burritos are all under seven.
“Our philosophy is fresh ingredients, reasonable prices and we think locals first,” Michael said.
Sliders are another specialty at Chuck Wagon. Eight varieties on the bite-size burger come in four packs and are served on sweet Hawaiian buns.
Experimenting with making their own fresh ingredients like bread and salsa is also a new endeavor for the Turner family. Michael said the growing process has been mostly trial and error.
“Baby steps helped us along,” he said. “We could learn what worked, what didn’t work, what people wanted and what they didn’t want.”
Starting small with a food truck helped them perfect the recipes they knew, like breakfast burritos and the cheese steak, before moving to the larger location.
The Turner kids work well together — Nash works with customers and does prep while his older brother works the grill. Michael joked in dubbing Chuck Wagon his “retirement plan,” where he could teach his kids the business and eventually let them run things on their own.
“They’ve always been mature kids,” he said. “They see things and identify problems, they’ve got a pretty good grasp on what needs to be done.
“They do get on each others’ nerves sometimes, they are siblings.”
Meanwhile, 13-year-old Kaitlin spends less time at the restaurant, but said there is a feeling of teamwork when they all work side by side.
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With the economy in California opened back up, businesses throughout the region are finding it difficult to attract employees.