Pizzeria relies on additive-free food to maintain hidden-gem status
June 10, 2015
TAHOMA, Calif. — To any given passerby, Tahoma may be another dot on a map; an out-of-the-way hamlet inhabited by a small, mixed bag of locals, second-home owners and a scattering of old and new businesses.
But to those who reside in this slice of West-Shore-heaven, Tahoma holds far more charm and allure than meets the eye, and Kevin and Aimée Sweeney are giving these folks one more reason to "stay-homa."
Since acquiring West Shore Pizza (formerly West Side Pizza) in October, the Sweeneys have been heating things up at the extensively remodeled and reimagined pizzeria, which, much like the town itself, is a hidden gem at Lake Tahoe.
"We're not just throwing pizzas — we're throwing a health-conscious product and an experience that we hope makes people feel welcome and at home," said Kevin Sweeney, who owns the restaurant alongside his wife and partner for over 20 years, Aimée. "We're trying to create the feel of a neighborhood place, where – not to get all "Cheers-y" on you – but a place where everyone really does know your name."
“We’re not just throwing pizzas
— we’re throwing a health-conscious product and an experience that we hope makes people feel welcome and at home. We’re trying to create the feel of a neighborhood place, where – not to get all “Cheers-y” on you – but a place where everyone really does know your name.”Kevin Sweeney
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From the eclectic mashup of antique and modern décor; to the additive-free, high-quality dough that is sourced straight from Italy; to the selection of craft brews and classic wines; to the friendly staff who seem to genuinely enjoy their jobs; to the overall atmosphere, all of which reflects the Sweeney's commitment to quality on every level.
"This has been my dream since I moved here and finally someone has given us the chance to make it happen," Kevin said.
PIONEERS OF PIZZA
The Sweeneys are no stranger to the restaurant industry, or to the art of flipping pies, having carved out the last 20 years working at various establishments – namely pizzerias – in North Lake Tahoe.
"We've been together long enough and have worked in enough restaurants that we know how to balance each other out," he said.
The couple, who met fresh out of high school when Aimée was still living in her home state of Texas, moved to Tahoe to pair a ski-bum lifestyle with a side gig at Village Pizzeria.
"I grew up in the bay area, so I was always coming to Tahoe as a kid," Sweeney said. "I knew I wanted to live here, and I convinced Aimée to come with me."
The couple eventually made the 10-mile trek from Tahoe City to Tahoma, landing jobs at West Side Pizza, where Kevin managed the kitchen while Aimée lead service operations.
"We wanted to buy it (West Side Pizza) back then, but it was right around the time our daughter was born so we decided to hold off," Sweeney said. "It wasn't too long after that the place burnt down."
Under new ownership, the scorched structure was remodeled and reopened under the same concept; however, after some years, the out-of-town owner hired a general manager to oversee onsite operations until ultimately, it became time to throw in the towel.
But before giving up their piece of the pie, they first gave the Sweeneys a chance to buy, and for them, the timing was perfect.
"They care about this community just as much as we do, and we feel very fortunate that they trusted with the business," Sweeney said.
RISING TO NEW HEIGHTS
Remnants of the former West Side Pizza seep through the red wall on the south side of the restaurant, and in other less-obvious ways, like the profound respect the couple carries for the previous business owner.
Though Sweeneys are by no means trying to reinvent the wheel as far as pizza goes, their approach infuses a traditional, Neapolitan thin-crust style with a modern dose of wholesome, high-quality ingredients.
"It's important to me that I let my daughter eat here with a peace of mind, and I'm not going to compromise on that by buying products based on the price rather than the quality," Sweeney said.
It's safe to say West Shore Pizza is giving its neighbors another reason to stay close to home, but there's more than enough pie to go around, and their goal is to make the experience worth the trek.
"We almost thought we might come to the point where we had to leave Tahoe, and that was really hard to accept," Sweeney said. "This is the place where I've found my soul, and now I get to wake up every day knowing we own a restaurant here, and that we can now be a part of this community for the rest of our lives — it really is a dream come true."
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.