Gus’ Tahoe BBQ is back in business
Incline Village’s favorite barbecue joint- Gus’ Tahoe BBQ- is back and open for business Thursday-Monday from 4:30 p.m. to close.
Located on 930 Tahoe Boulevard in Incline Village, Gus’ welcomed about 50-70 people on their reopening day of Saturday, October 14, 2023, to enjoy quick, delicious food and watch their favorite sports on one of the nine big screen TVs.
“Opening day went great, it’s like we never left,” says Gus’ Owner John Cheney, who also owns Big Water Grille. Cheney originally opened Gus’ in 2014 and ran it until 2021 when he sold the business. The new restauranteurs changed the menu from the open pit barbeque to “lounge eats.” The change did not prove to be as prosperous, business dropped off, and they stopped paying their rent. (The former Nevada Jane owners posted to social media that they closed due to the rent going up, a delay in gaming getting approved, and lack of kitchen staffing.) The property defaulted back to Cheney, who decided to bring back the popular Santa Maria-style barbecue.
“It was successful, going great. We got through COVID and then had a fire that shut us down in the summer of 2021. Even though business was going well, we tested the [real estate] market to see if the business would sell, and it did. We handed them a successful business with a GM and staff, they changed the menu, and it failed. They quit paying rent and were about to get evicted when the landlord contacted me since I was the obligator,” Cheney says.
Even though Gus’ was going well, during the pandemic the real estate market was lucrative, and Cheney saw an opportunity. He has owned Big Water Grille for 19 years (helping to open it 25 years ago with the original owners) and was splitting more of his time during COVID between Tahoe and Los Angeles with his partner.
It is called Gus’ because when he was going to college in Santa Barbara, he worked at Fess Parker’s at a Red Lion Inn and the engineer who had access to his locker slipped a new nameplate on his uniform that said “Gus”. Everyone started calling him that, and the nickname stuck.
“All of my favorite restaurants are one-name places, Sam’s, Brophy’s, O’Malley’s,” Cheney says. The GM who worked with Cheney when Gus’ opened in 2014 came back, as well as two other employees who were with the barbeque joint since the beginning (a main employee of the recently shuttered Fredrick’s Fusion Bistro also joined the team).
It’s also obvious that Cheney is enthusiastic about Santa Maria-style barbeque which makes him the perfect person to own and operate Gus’. Cheney grew up in Lompoc, California, and he grew up grilling meats in an open pit barbeque with red oak wood, using a wheel to raise the spit up and down to control the heat. Growing up, Cheney and his brothers would take part in fundraisers at the local grocery store parking lot, over the open pit and making tri-tip, chicken, salad, beans, and bread dinners to sell for a worthy cause.
“I have three brothers and we all think we do it the best. My dad taught us how to grill; I recently saw my dad’s original grill which was an old oil drum with a crank- it is pretty cool,” he adds.
Over at Gus’ Tahoe BBQ, the tri-tip plates are a staple, which includes two sides (of beans, salad, coleslaw, mac & cheese, shoestring fries, onion rings, and grilled veggies) along with garlic bread. Tri-tip is also on one of the restaurant’s signature sandwiches nestled between thick slices of garlic bread and pico de gallo. Cheney’s personal favorite is the chicken breast, chipotle mayonnaise, Ortega chile, lettuce, tomato, and melted extra sharp cheddar cheese also jammed between garlic bread.
However, most people will be happy to hear that the LATS are back. Cheney made up that word in 2014, which stands for Legs And Thighs. When Gus’ originally opened at that time, McDonald’s was test driving chicken wings and it drove up the price. So, Cheney created a non-boned version and called it the LATS that come in all different flavors, such as Asian, spicy, and buffalo.
It’s also worth noting that Cheney has a 14-ft. towable grill that can be used for catered events. The Gus’ double-axle truck was one of the first vendors at the Bottlerock Festival in 2013 before the restaurant was even around. He was one of the caterers at the PGA golf tournament at Montreux, brought the open pit barbeque to Red, White, and Tahoe Blue, and has worked several events at the IVGID beaches.
Barbeque items (and sides) can be quick to make and serve, but Cheney has found that people hang out at Gus’ for hours. “You can come in and have a meal and be gone in a half-hour, but now people like to hang out with the big screen,” he says about the 140-inch video wall upstairs in the bar area (there are eight other TVs around the restaurant). Gus’ is also going to start doing mobile ordering and curbside delivery.
“We’ve never had that before, and not a lot of businesses around here have that. When this was sprung on me, I didn’t think I could get a staff, so I was just going to do takeout,” he says. However, luckily he could steal some people from Big Water Grille who maybe want a change from the fine dining scene to wearing a jeans and t-shirt to work.
“I’m really proud of it [Gus’]. My daughters grew up with this place and even the guests say that it feels like we never left,” Cheney adds.
Gus’ Tahoe BBQ on 930 Tahoe Boulevard is open Thursday-Monday from 4:30 p.m.-closing and Sunday at noon. For more information, visit the official website at http://www.gusbbqtahoe.net/.
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