Cooking it up off Commercial Row
Truckee restaurant owners whose businesses are off the well-beaten path of Commercial Row must think outside the box and beyond the flocks of visitors for survival in a tourist town. “It’s kind of weird how we are excluded from downtown,” said Timbo Brown, owner of Zano’s Family Italian Pizzeria, on the western portion of Donner Pass Road.So what does Brown do to compete with restaurants in the bustling heart of Truckee? “We make sure to take care of the locals,” the Chicago native said. “We do quite well in the slow season doing that. And if you take care of locals, they’ll send the tourists your way.”Brown said he also shoots for a Midwest-style eatery, where proportions fill bellies, prices don’t drain wallets and there is ample space for families and large groups. And there’s also arcade games and an air hockey table for the kids.
“Our main strategy with our business plan was to offer Truckee what it needed, which was a mid-price, large-proportion business,” Brown said. “In the Midwest and back East these types of places are everywhere. “It seems the trend around Truckee is going higher end, so we just try to keep prices down. Being off Commercial Row we can do that, being that we don’t pay as high of rent.”Another ploy to draw visitors from downtown is live music, which Zano’s provides on Thursday nights, and sometimes Fridays, mainly by way of classic rock and blues bands, Brown said.30 years of service
Dorothy Waters, owner of The Pizza Shack, located on the north side of Donner Pass Road across from Truckee High School, doesn’t fret over a business plan. Instead, after celebrating the small restaurant’s 30-year anniversary on June 23, Waters and 25-year employee Pollie Hecathorn still rely on the original business plan – “Old-fashioned cooked food” and word of mouth. Waters said the high school students who pile into the 30- to 35-seat building during their lunch break and hungry construction workers who do the same also help keep business running efficiently. Because of beer sales – and the law stating that alcohol cannot be sold near a school during school hours – business is better in the summer, when it’s mainly construction workers dropping by for anything from a pizza to a hamburger to tacos to breakfast, Waters said.”We’ve got a good bunch (of construction workers). They’ll call and tell us they’re coming in,” Waters said. “A lot of them we’ve known since high school.”Truckee Bagel Company owner Kerry Sheedy said his business, located on Deerfield Drive just past McDonald’s, also does well with its local following, but undoubtedly would be more successful on Commercial Row.”It’s a challenge,” Sheedy said of luring customers away from downtown and in through his doors. “We have to advertise a lot more. We’ve contemplated moving a couple times to other locations in town, but there are not that many places on the way to Alpine and Squaw.”
And while Sheedy figured 11 years ago when he started his business that local skiers would stop by for a bagel on their way to the slopes, he also realized the building was not ideal for attracting Truckee’s tourists.”I knew we could do a little better in a better location,” he said. “But location wasn’t as important as paying a high rent, because even when you have a slow season, the rent stays the same. I think if you produce good product and have good customer service, a ‘B’ location can make it.”Margot Gibson, three-year owner of Tahoe Berry, on Donner Pass Road across the street from the Shell gas station, said business has “been great” as of late. Her business plan is similar to Brown’s over at Zano’s.”We cater to people that live here that don’t want to spend a fortune,” Gibson said. “We have good portions and good prices. We’re not at all a foo-foo restaurant.”And like Brown, Gibson is experimenting with live music – “Blues and Barbecue” on Saturday afternoons features a different band each week and specialty barbecue ribs to entice customers to dine on Tahoe Berry’s patio.