Meet Your Merchant: A place in North Lake Tahoe ‘where everybody knows your name’
TAHOE CITY, Calif. – The year is 1976. The sweltering Tahoe summer air begins to cool as the sun bids farewell to another bluebird day. A crowd of rowdy, clammy softball players parades into Pete ‘N’ Peters in Tahoe City. They exchange high-fives and celebratory pats-on-the-back. It’s the end of another legendary softball night in Tahoe City, and no matter who won or lost, a sense of camaraderie overwhelms the small-town sports bar. Fast forward to 2011 and not much has changed at the local watering hole. Over the years, the pitch has gone from fast to slow, the league has changed from men’s to co-ed, the trophies lining the perimeter of the tavern grow in size and number, but the enthusiasm remains the same. Since opening its doors in February 1976, the character of Pete ‘N’ Peters has been built around the tradition of softball and sportsmanship, said David “Johnny B.” Rutter, owner of Pete ‘N’ Peters for nearly three decades.”Softball has always been a strong event in this community and really served as the foundation of Pete ‘N’ Peters,” Rutter said. “Whether you win or lose, teams always come down to Pete’s to have beer, unwind and talk it over.”
Rutter relocated to North Lake Tahoe in September 1973 and immediately began his bartending career at the Bear Pen in Squaw Valley – a job he scored from longtime friend and well-known Tahoe City bartender, Doran “Montana” Cahill. The Squaw hotspot was famous for its “local’s night,” where rock-and-roll legends like Pablo Cruise, Bob Weir, Eddie Money and Huey Lewis would pack the house with eclectic sounds symbolic of the 70s.”The Bear Pen was the local spot for everyone from Truckee to Lake Tahoe,” Rutter recalled. “It was a great experience to come out here and be thrown right into the hottest bar around. That was just an incredible time in Squaw history.”Rutter went on to bartend at the Hearthstone – now Rosie’s – in Tahoe City before joining the Pete ‘N’ Peters crew in 1978. After a short stint as General Manager at River Grill Restaurant and Lodge from 1981 to 1983, Rutter was given an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Pete Perata and Peter Paine had created a successful partnership for several years as co-owners of Pete ‘N’ Peters before Perata decided to move his Truckee-based excavation business to Hawaii in 1983.”Pete Perata wanted to sell out at Pete’s, so I had an opportunity everyone in the service industry dreams of,” Rutter said. “I came back and bought his interest out in 1983, and Peter Paine and I had fabulous partnership for almost 30 years.”Under the new partnership – which lasted until 2009 when Rutter became sole owner – Paine and Rutter maintained the softball spirit that was synonymous with the establishment, but both businessmen wanted to make a larger contribution to the community outside of slinging drinks and hosting softball heavyweights.”I attribute much of our success to the involvement we’ve had with the community and the various charities Peter and I have been fortunate enough to be a part of,” said Rutter.
In 1984, customers and employees of Pete ‘N’ Peters hit the pavement canvassing local businesses for raffle prizes to raise money for the North Tahoe High School athletics program. That initiative helped raise more than $200,000 in the 20 some years it operated under Rutter’s and Paine’s leadership, Rutter said.In 2004, Paine and Rutter were approached by a group of local business owners who wanted to take the fundraiser to the next level. Thus began the North Tahoe Booster Club, which has raised more than $200,000 since its inception nearly seven years ago.”It’s about working with the community and giving back, not just taking, not just being here and making our money,” Rutter said. “You’ve got to give back in this business.”The giving doesn’t stop there with Rutter. Over the years, Pete ‘N’ Peters has hosted numerous fundraisers for community members in need and has generously donated proceeds to local organizations like Meals on Wheels – one of Rutter’s favorite charities. The overwhelming success of these fundraising events would not be realized without the loyalty of Pete ‘N’ Peters’ customers, Rutter said.”People always ask ‘what’s the key to your success?’ and I think aside from our employees, it’s our customer base,” said Rutter. “Our customers are the ones that make Pete ‘N’ Peters what it is today. You can come in here on any given afternoon and see certain people who are in here all the time – they have their favorite bar stool and they’ve been coming here since 1976.””These steadfast patrons don’t come here to see ‘Johnny B. Good’ – they come here to see the employees,” Rutter boasted. “I can’t say enough about them.”Bartenders like Suzy Walden, Duke Eberle and George “Alfie” Howell have been a part of the Pete ‘N’ Peters family for a combined total of 60 years, Rutter said.”Johnny consistently hires really good people and when you work with people you enjoy being around, it makes it a lot easier to go to work,” Eberle said during a quiet evening behind the bar. “We’re a family here and with employers, that’s not always an easy thing to establish, but around here we have been able to maintain that.”Pete ‘N’ Peters will celebrate 36 years of business in 2012, and while Rutter hopes to retire within the next five years, he foresees handing the business over to his reputable staff.”I would love to trade Pete ‘N’ Peters over to the employees, to give them the opportunity to carry it on,” Rutter said. “There’s no doubt in my mind we can go for another 36 years.”