New smells of basil and tomatoes are wafting around Heavenly Village. They're coming from the open doors of Base Camp Pizza, South Lake Tahoe's newest pizzeria.
At Base Camp's soft opening on May 26, the restaurant was filled with Memorial Day vacationers and residents. The eatery features a full bar as well as a large dining room with booths and tables.
"It was packed," co-owner Ted Kennedy said. "We had a 45-minute wait there for awhile."
Kennedy and co-owner Ray Villaman are familiar with the demands of operating a pizza restaurant in an alpine resort area. They opened Fireside Pizza in the Village at Squaw Valley in 2002 and Rubicon Pizza in the Village at Northstar in 2005. It was only a matter of time before they set their sights on the South Shore.
"We've been really successful up there," Kennedy said. "And people from down here kept saying, 'hey, we want to get your pizza, but we don't want to drive so far for it.'"
The heavy foot traffic and concentration of visitor lodging around the Stateline area caught the attention of the owners.
"At Northstar and Squaw, each has around 600 rooms," Kennedy said. "Here, we were told there are around 5,000. We're hopeful there'll be a bunch of bodies around."
With two successful restaurants around the lake and a third up and running, Base Camp's management clearly has a winning strategy. One key to their success is the positive environment the management cultivates among their employees.
'It's really about maintaining relationships, having that family," Manager Nick Maffei said.
Kennedy noted that Danny Scott and Carissa Savitsky, the general managers at Fireside and Rubicon, started as a dishwasher and waitress, respectively.
"We're really committed to bumping up our employees, that growth," Kennedy said.
The other secret is simple: the food.
"For me it's the unusual flavor combos," Maffei said. "The Smoky BBQ Chicken has a barbecue base, oven-roasted chicken, and red onions. Then it's topped with smoked Gouda cheese. It's so creamy, it ties the pie together."
Another standout selection is the Thai Chicken Curry, chicken, yellow bell peppers, tomatoes, red onion and mascarpone cheese topped with fresh lime slices, basil and cilantro. Underneath all this is Base Camp's sweet thai curry sauce with a touch of coconut.
The man behind many of the exotic flavors at Base Camp is Marc Vaccaro, the well-traveled head chef of the three restaurants. Over the last decade, Vaccaro has made a point of traveling the globe, studying faraway recipes, ingredients and techniques in Thailand, India, Australia, and South America.
"It's all about bringing a new sauce or flavor to a customer," He said. "Throughout traveling I'm always thinking about things that would translate."
While plans for patio seating, an outdoor bar, and delivery service are on the horizon, the staff at Base Camp things have been good so far.
"The response so far has been excellent," Maffei noted. "When we tell people that we've only been open a week, they can't believe it."
Base Camp Pizza is located in the Heavenly Village, across from Seattle's Best Coffee.