A Lake Tahoe retreat. Better defining the “Customer Experience”. PART – 2

Base Camp LogoI really don’t want to go too far without identifying the single most venture-full and enlightening experience I had while nearly abroad in Lake Tahoe. Don’t get me wrong, I had a really great time with the family and my wife; exploring new places and looking through the same shops as we did 4 years ago. Some of the restaurants have changed. Especially in the Village area. Perhaps we didn’t see them or recognize them from before, but a lot has changed. Wolfgang Puck had a quick-service gourmet sandwich-type grill in the Village, but has since left and another challenging competitor has assumed the position directly under the Gondola. What I need to point out here is, The Gondola IS the center of ALL activity in the Village of South Lake Tahoe.

Not to be too far off track, the restaurant I’m about to identify is very much the center of that under-the-Gondola-Village activity and so deserve the attention of this CritDick.

I’m not going to speak the name of that competitor that took Wolfgang’s better location directly under the Gondola as of yet; because I want to highlight the stellar performance of Base Camp Pizza http://basecamppizzaco.com/, located just a few yards from the old Wolfgang location. What caught my attention was Base Camp’s very full house at all times of the day/eve and the fine musical performances (I’m talking all operating hours of the day/eve) by fine artists seeking to perform on one of either of Base Camp’s two patio stages. One of those stages faces the, today dry, ice-skating rink in the morning (note: I am there in Spring on this trip), and the other stage is amongst several tables that are comfortably set under a super-power-heater-infested and covered-otherwise-wind-tunnel that has fine performances of very talented performers seeking to play this stage in the cooler evenings (cold) . . . the variety of local and traveling artists that are beckoning to be part of it . . .  those artists that desire to be heard, and those artists that provide Base Camp’s customers a better performance. And they do. I would pass by several times and hear the artists performing with an artistic passion I felt I understood.

So one day, I was off to a bad start and hadn’t yet had my vacation alcohol for the day. I waited until everyone in our party was otherwise occupied (probably napping . . . I didn’t give a shit). I hear the music reeling through the complex of two vacation rentals (both are Marriot time-share, and yes you can hear the music until 10pm), so I venture over to listen during the lunch hour and note what things that are going on in the Village. I decide to confront the staff at Base Camp and ask about the live music that draws the attention of all vacationers and locals alike.

I nab the first server that walks by and ask, “hey, when’s the best time to catch the manager or owner”? It was now into the lunch service hour on that Wednesday. The server indicated to me there was someone there to help me. I told him I was interested in the operations of Base Camp and would like someone knowledgeable enough to answer my questions. The server asked me to give him a moment to see who might be available. Out comes Ryan.


I give Ryan the immediate once-over-quick-questioning to immediately recognize that he can provide my answers. In fact, Ryan (Assistant Manager) had been with the operation long enough to tell me the Base Camp truth. I’m not sure if he had, in fact, been with Base Camp since the start, but he seemed to have been there since soon after the beginning. I told Ryan I would be back on that Thursday evening with my family. Ryan even gave me the pleasure of knowing someone there at Base Camp to impress the family when he greeted our table that night. The service there was good and the staff seemed very “Heavenly” friendly. I use that, “Heavenly”, to give those locals (or passing through, outdoorsy-type seasonal employee) serving us the due respect for their very conversational/rational way of life. Ryan explained the folks they hire want to be there and usually always have great stories from their lives. I said to my wife offhandedly, “there’s no shortage of facial hair here”. My guessing is there’s no shortage of arm-pit hair either . . . ladies? . . .

Again, the menu did contain the similar menu items I had mentioned before, one of them being calamari. Base Camp’s currently holds the rein for Village calamari. And, if I must say, they also hold this Dicks’ trophy for “best belt-drive pizza I’ve ever had”. Ryan explained that they can only service this quantity of patrons with the conveyor system. “You just pump ’em out”, Ryan explained. But you know what, their other food comes from the kitchen with timeliness, creativity and flavor as well. I think part of the reason for Base Camp’s success is their creative use of ingredients. They have several different specialty pizzas that catch most of the local and travelers’ “food channel watching” desire for uniqueness and flavor diversity. I don’t know which my son ordered, but they were both very good pies . . . albeit, belt drive. I will usually dislike those pizzas. Not tonight.

So the story goes like this. Base Camp has capitalized on seemingly every traveler through the Village. They do this with their “every night of the year” musical performances, their several tap handle craft beer and cocktail selections, their food and their daily happy hour of cheap drinks and bites. The craft beer drinking market is very well rampant here in Tahoe.

So now Base Camp has the demographic covered. The ex-Wolfgang place now has to try to keep up. The ex-Wolfgang place has the better location . . . and now, the twice-a-day musicians or DJ to keep pace with Base Camp’s live musical performances; but the Wolfgang place is dead for patrons except on Saturdays as we had arrived, and the Friday night before we left. But then, a closer look sees that there are really only a handful of those patrons huddling near the fire pit and another few scattered inside the small eatery. So now my attention turned to the, “I wonder what would work in Wolfgang’s old place” since it looks like the Gunbarrel is gonna have a misfire.

Check Base Camp out. I find it hard that you’ll be dissatisfied.

Look for the continuing story about . . .


A Lake Tahoe retreat. Better defining the “Customer Experience”. PART -1

I guess this is somewhat unbelievable, having finally learned my definition of the “Customer Experience”.

Really needing this vacation, I wasn’t sure I was going to get my unanticipated desire to again write. That meaning, it has only been a couple of weeks that I had made yet another conscious decision to once again amuse my audience. I guess I haven’t had a vacation in a long time. Being so exposed for a full 7 days of experiences from a consumer standpoint has been very exhilarating. Having my Wife/life partner by my side has always helped. She is the greatest thing that has happened to me over 30 years ago. I recently told her she is very good/smart in the kitchen having learned simultaneously from television (i.e. Food Network and The Cooking Channel) and from me, having now been through Culinary school. Now, she has learned to observe different things than I, … albeit from a respected female perspective.

One thing she understands, is MY definition of “customer experience” . . . is many times, undefined. I say this because the customer will always experience different things. Simple analogy identifies that a different customer will experience different things; but the same customer will also experience different things . . . even using the same product or service again and again. Think about that for a moment. A customer’s expectation of a product or service begins the total customer experience. Question: Have you ever eaten at, and have you ever returned to eat at McDonald’s . . . ever? Has McDonald’s fulfilled your definition of an experience. Why would you return to the establishment if your experience was bad? Yes I know that sometimes we must return because of necessity and also peer or other outside influences, like going on a date with friends and they all want to go to McDonald’s. Remember, even the finest Chefs still eat junk food.

What can be explained here is our “experience”. Even if we don’t want to eat at McDonalds, sometimes our previous experience defines our expectation of our future experience. From another vantage point; why would we take our car back to the same lowsey mechanic? Why did I return to South Lake Tahoe and stay at Marriot’s Timber Lodge? Because of the experience! Why did I go to McDonald’s after a night of partying with Wifey recently while staying in Laughlin (another experience)? Why, because we just had to have a Big Mac and fries on the way to bed that un-sober eve. F’in awesome!!! I turned my back and the wife sucked down well over half in less than two minutes.

Marriot’s Timber Lodge http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/rnotl-marriotts-timber-lodge/ is located in South Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Village. South Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Village is located at the base of the gondola that services Heavenly mountain resort, a ski/snowboard mecca of lifts and trails spanning both Nevada and the California border. That specific location allows the vacationer the option of crossing (a moments walk from the base of the gondola) the Nevada/California state line for a quick game of Black Jack, a pull of a giant slot machine handle or the lucky throw of dice. That “state line” is conveniently located just steps away from the underground Stateline Brewing Company. beers on tap  Stateline Brewing Company is one of the must try’s on my list of excellent customer experiences.  Having visited  SBC on our previous visit, we have found their Italian/American themed cuisine as being one of the highlights their location ads to the ability of on-site several barrel brewing. When there, check out their pastas, salads and fish stuffs. We have never tried the pizza or burgers, but . . . ya gotta try their Italian.

Heavenly mountain resort began our collateral research this visit of the Bloody Mary cocktail. This trip also gets the must try cocktail list in this region. Some of the best Bloody Mary’s we have ever tasted consistently, and I mean BEST Bloody Mary’s were found in South Lake Tahoe. Beginning with Heavenly ski resort’s own Tamarac Lodge, located at the top of the Heavenly Gondola, served a bar breakfast drink that included a stoutly thick piece of candied bacon. We also tried some other that I can’t remember through the alcohol fog; but remember it was good as well, and Echo. Echo probably had the best taste-inspired and creatively displayed works of food/alcohol art/science in the “village”. Echo’s Chance (a server identifying himself as an official Mixologist . . . or student of the science/art) began his assault on my breakfast wallet early on to earn a fine tip. I made sure I vocally communicated to him that his service was exceptional; and it was. Chance had allowed us to taste a roasted garlic Mary mix, and the bright flavors of his roasted lemon Mary concoction. Each had a meal-full of bacon and skewered fruits and vegetables that were pickled along with pickles served with Echo’s sandwich portion of their seemingly, a bit more upper scale menu lunch menu selections.

Searching for Echo that weekday morning, we were hoping they had breakfast; but at 11am, we were prepared for either. I think I remember them having a breakfast special on a Saturday or Sunday morning. We had walked by Echo one of the first mornings upon our arrival and intended to return. Lunch was fine that day; in fact, the Pork Belly Burger w/Tomato Jam was pretty damn good. If you’re looking for it, you’ll see the beer signs from the street but the entrance is business style characteristic of the resort they are attached to. They are on the same side of the street as Stateline Brewing but just before the Stateline walking toward the casinos. Say that three times.

Seemingly everyone has Calamari on their menu in Tahoe. Seemingly everyone has three things; Calamari, Risotto and Pork Belly. I didn’t try any Risotto . . . next time perhaps. I did however eat at IHOP the morning of departure, and absolutely refused to eat any more bacon . . . NO MORE BACON!!!


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