Local appeal can keep a business alive
March 18, 2003
Scotty’s Hardware owner Mauro Capone doesn’t have to test his memory to come up with one of the memorable moments in his 30 years in business.
“In the last year was a classic example. It was just unbelievable,” Capone said.
When Mother Nature gave South Lake Tahoe its one significant dump of snow in mid-December, frantic customers bought countless snowblower supplies, kerosene, candles and batteries.
Capone’s staff was busy giving advice on the telephone. A few employees even made house calls to solve snowblower problems during this time.
“Repair jobs (at homes) are not something we normally do — but we did it,” Capone said.
That extra effort for their regular customers has become the reason Capone — along with other business owners celebrating anniversary milestones — believes his company has been able to keep operating in a tough economic climate like Tahoe. Capone took over Scotty’s Paint store from Roger Scott in April 1973.
Recommended Stories For You
Since then, Capone has learned a lot about surviving in a seasonal business climate like South Lake Tahoe — a town the business owner feels he could write a book about. His success has led to moving from the Lampson’s Plaza — where the Factory Stores at the Y is located — to west of the Raley’s center and the opening of a second store on Kingsbury Grade.
“It is tough to be in business in South Lake Tahoe. You starve in the winter time and do well in the summer, so you have to save in summer,” he said, adding in a joking tone: “The only thing we have to hope for is a severe winter.”
Dan Passaretti, who operates Pasaretti’s Italian Restaurant, hopes there won’t be a repeat like his first two months in business 20 years ago on Emerald Bay Road.
A severe El Ni-o-driven winter storm in April 1983 caused landslides to close Highway 50.
“It was especially hard when they closed the road,” he said, adding 10 feet of snow had collected in his parking lot.
Passaretti opened his restaurant with his wife, Tai, a month before the massive slide. The couple — who had met while working at Harveys Resort Casino as a cook and cocktail waitress, respectively — later married in their restaurant.
“The restaurant business is hard in itself,” he said, also agreeing with Capone that success requires pacing the business finances to get through the challenging times.
The Passarettis have remodeled four times, doubling their seating capacity a decade ago to 65.
“You just make as much as you can and not live life like a big shot,” he said.
Carina Evans, who has run Carina’s Cafe and Catering for 10 years, shares a similar sentiment.
“I don’t just have a title. I work for it,” she said.
Evans went to work at age 13, learning early on that success means a lot of hard work and dedication.
She also believes pacing oneself as a business owner may translate to the longevity of operating in South Lake Tahoe. Evans has borrowed money before, but she makes a concerted effort to live within her means.
Evans is trying to sell the business so she won’t have to work so much.
“If it sells great, if it doesn’t, that’s fine too,” she said.
Either way, the business owner enjoys life in Tahoe.
“First of all, I love what I do, and I love my loyal customers,” she said.
Evans didn’t miss a beat at responding “never” to whether she has any regrets to go into business in a town where running a company can be as tough as enduring the winter.
Ruth Baumann, who owns the Swiss Chalet Restaurant, expressed the same response as Evans to the prospect of ever leaving Lake Tahoe.
She and her husband, Kurt, are marking their 45th year in business in South Lake Tahoe.
What’s the couple’s secret to success?
The Baumanns have found rewards in keeping the same menu because the regular customers return knowing they can get a particular meal.
Not all the regulars are locals. The Switzerland natives have a steady clientele from Europe. Some have turned out to be friends because the Baumanns’ business has become a social outlet.
“I know where they sit and what they eat,” Ruth Baumann said.
Don’t kid yourself though.
Baumann insisted that running a restaurant isn’t a party.
One must plan for the unexpected. A fire that occurred almost 30 years ago burned the business to the ground and they were forced to rebuild.
Then there’s the sheer diligence required to operate a restaurant.
“What we’ve had to do is work our butts off. We don’t look at the clock,” she said, adding they log about 80 hours a week.
But working hard sure beats the alternative. She notes the high failure rate of restaurants in South Lake Tahoe.
The difficulty isn’t reserved to eating establishments.
“It’s very difficult because the business climate is so seasonal,” said Peter Friederici, who owns Alpine Carpet One.
The carpet company surpassed 30 years of business recently by diversifying its services into the removal of mold in structures.
“What makes the business climate so difficult is the fluctuating weather and seasons,” South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Duane Wallace said. “This last weekend was a typical example.”
He suggested that at the prospect of a hefty snowfall many restaurants may have beefed up their staffing and supplies to accommodate an influx of tourists in town to ski.
When it fails to materialize, there’s waste.
“The businesses that make it, master those things and are top notch at customer service,” Wallace said, adding catering to residents as another reason. “If you don’t have the locals, they don’t recommend to the tourists.”
-Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org