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 . . .


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