Meet Your Merchant: On eve of 35th birthday, the BT is still a localsand#8217; favorite
TAHOE CITY, Calif. and#8212; Itand#8217;s Friday afternoon and the Bridgetender is already noisy with a boisterous crowd of patrons getting their weekend off to an early start. Owner Scott Zumwalt sits at a two-top table under a window just inside the door, tallying names and numbers on a pad of paper.
He figures with more than 100 people contributing $10 each to the pool, each person can expect a payout somewhere around $4 million after taxes. But even if one of the 1,000 tickets wins the estimated $656 Mega Millions lottery, he promises heand#8217;s not going to quit his job.
and#8220;I wonand#8217;t be as stressed about making my payment,and#8221; he says, and#8220;but Iand#8217;ll still be at the Bridgetender.and#8221;
While the Mega Millions prize came and went last Friday, Zumwalt is still a man who hit a jackpot of a different kind.
Call it a love affair. Call it destiny. Call it old fashion elbow grease. Chris Schuster, Kurt Hyatt, Carmine Bove and Zumwalt can now call Tahoe Cityand#8217;s Bridgetender and#8212; known by locals as the BT and#8212; their own.
Though Zumwaltand#8217;s three partners have long-time business and residential ties to north Lake Tahoe and#8212; Schuster is an independent event production specialist living in Tahoe City; Bove lives in Truckee and is owner of the Log Cabin in Kings Beach; and Hyatt owns Front Street Pizza in Tahoe City and also lives in Truckee and#8212; Zumwalt moved to the area in hopes of one day owning the Bridgetender.
Zumwalt grew up in Colusa, Calif., a small agricultural town of about 5,000 people just west of Yuba City.
After he graduated from San Diego State in 2003 with a bachelor of science in business management, he dabbled in marketing. It was 2006 and Zumwalt was working for the Sacramento Kings when he had a chance conversation with a woman named Lila. He told her he had always wanted to own a restaurant, and she said, and#8220;You should talk with my dad and uncle.and#8221;
The next day, Zumwalt took a sick day, drove up from the valley and, for the very first time, saw the Bridgetender.
and#8220;As soon as I walked into the place, I fell in love with it,and#8221; he said.
Zumwalt sat on the patio with one of the establishmentand#8217;s three owners at the time, Chris Park. Park and Zumwalt had cocktails and talked about a businessand#8217; role in the community and its commitment to employees.
and#8220;It wasnand#8217;t a 100 percent that I was going to buy the Bridgetender,and#8221; said Zumwalt. and#8220;But we clicked on how things should be run right from the get-go.and#8221;
Zumwalt went home, quit his job, said good-bye to his friends and moved to Tahoe to begin an unofficial apprenticeship. For the next few years, Zumwalt toiled away as an employee of the business. He learned to bartend and to cook, and on regular occasions Park would pull Zumwalt into the back and teach him how to manage the accounting and financial aspects.
and#8220;He taught me how to handle the seasonal downturns,and#8221; Zumwalt said. and#8220;If you take care of the locals, they take care of you.and#8221;
In 2008, after Zumwalt had worked his way up to general manager, Park tragically died. A month later, a second BT owner, Nick Fuller, also died, leaving Scott Park and#8212; Chrisand#8217; brother and Lilaand#8217;s father and#8212; the sole remaining BT owner. Scott and his wife, Ulla, assumed Chrisand#8217; role as managing partner.
If Scott Park had decided to put the restaurant for sale on the open market, perhaps this story would have ended differently. Instead early this year, Park sold the restaurant to Zumwalt and his business partners.
Zumwalt couldnand#8217;t be more thankful for Scott and Ulla Parkand#8217;s vote of confidence.
and#8220;It was because they wanted to see Chrisand#8217; wishes passed on that I was able to buy this place,and#8221; he said, adding that the transition has been smooth. and#8220;I’ve been running it for three years; obviously things change, but the community has been great,and#8221; he said.
Patti Deryke, an employee who has been with the restaurant for 28 years, couldnand#8217;t agree more.
and#8220;Chris is smiling on us,and#8221; she said. and#8220;We are so excited.and#8221;
The Bridgetender will turn 35 this May (look for upcoming information on the celebration), and Zumwalt said he doesnand#8217;t see a need to fix anything thatand#8217;s not broken. Aside from tweaking the menu here and there to bring in more local, organic foods, he doesnand#8217;t foresee making many changes at the Bridgetender.
The menu currently features a (juicy and tender) free-range, organic elk burger with blueberry BBQ sauce, authentic street tacos, an array of local and interesting beers and a savory Bloody Mary garnished with a slice of bacon.
Zumwalt said his friends who thought he was crazy when he up and quit his job with the Kings and moved to a small town in the mountains now think he is doing all right. And his parents, of course, have already visited.
His dad is proud and happy, he said, and#8220;especially since itand#8217;s a bar.and#8221;