South Tahoe: Brewery going into empty Swiss Chalet building |

South Tahoe: Brewery going into empty Swiss Chalet building

Tom Lotshaw
Debbie Brown is opening a new business, Cold Water Brewery & Grill, in the former Swiss Chalet building in South Lake Tahoe. The iconic building will be getting a major makeover. Brown is hoping to open the brewery by summer's end.
Tom Lotshaw / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

After two decades of working in South Lake Tahoe restaurants and resorts, Debbie Brown is taking a plunge and opening her own business, the Cold Water Brewery & Grill, in the former Swiss Chalet restaurant.

Brown said her business launch has been years in the making.

“I’ve been looking at real estate options all over town. I’ve knocked on everybody’s door,” she said about her search for the perfect location.

A former general manager at Stateline Brewery who oversaw its opening, Brown first thought she wanted to open her craft brewery and grill at Heavenly Village. But as time passed, she could not settle on a spot. A friend told her she was being like the little girl who keeps walking to the end of the diving board, looking over the end and turning around. She needed to jump.

“Maybe it was the timing, the place, the moment. I don’t know. But 10 minutes later I drove over here and I saw it,” Brown said about the empty Swiss Chalet. “I’ve driven by it a million times but couldn’t see it. It takes those hard moments to take that leap of faith.”

At the busy corner of Lake Tahoe Boulevard and Sierra Avenue, the Swiss Chalet building Brown is leasing is getting a major makeover. Much of the inside is gutted already. “People ask me if I’m going to change the outside. Yeah,” Brown said. “It’s going to look a lot different. It’s time.”

Large windows facing the intersection will showcase the brewery and its cold room to people outside. Brown hopes to get started on exterior improvements to the building in the next few weeks as permits are finalized.

The brewery’s name, Cold Water, comes from Lake Tahoe. Brown thought about what to name the business for a long time as she walked a new stretch of beach each morning.

“I wrote down a bazillion names, I asked for help and for advice and the name came out of the water just like I thought it would,” Brown said. “One day when I felt desperate and like the name was on the tip of my tongue, my dog Cooper comes out and shakes off all over me. It was cold water.”

The goal for Cold Water Brewery & Grill is great handcrafted food and beer and great service at a uniquely Tahoe business. The menu will offer expected pub fare such as burgers and fries but also branch out into more unique items and things for people with special dietary needs, Brown said.

“I want to create a place that’s fun. I want music and laughter and a place where groups can come together. We want this corner to come alive for people, and for it to be used.”

Brown said she is excited to join in the “Midtown” concept for South Lake Tahoe, with Blue Dog Gourmet Pizza and Scusa Italian Ristorante both opening businesses at the same corner in recent years.

“We want to create that next node in town,” Brown said. “In my mind you’ve got Heavenly Village, Ski Run Boulevard and what’s going on over there, and Harrison Avenue. Then we have the ‘Y,’ and the goal of making all those connections. Now let’s have Midtown. I want to be on that corner. I want to be part of it.”

Brown is keeping the wraps on some aspects of her brewery for now. Suffice to say it will be milling its own grains and starting its brews from there. The goal is to offer at least 12 handles of beer as production ramps up.

“We want to have a taste of place,” Brown said about the brewery. “We want to use juniper berries. They grow right on Luther Pass. We want to use pine nuts. We want to use mountain sage. We want beer that when you drink it you know you’re getting a taste of the Sierra.”

Cold Water Brewery & Grill will have a full bar and partner with wineries on the West Slope to offer their wines.

“We’ve got so much the Sierra provides. That’s our goal, to let the visitor and the local celebrate that,” Brown said.

Brown wants the business open by summer’s end. “Would I like to get July? No one would like to get it better,” she said. “A hot day and a cold beer go good together. But we’ve got to make the beer and get the doors open.”

Scott Fair, of Century 21 at Tahoe Paradise Realty, helped Brown find the Swiss Chalet building.

“The most exciting thing about this is that the Swiss Chalet is one of the most iconic properties in town. With what’s happening in Tahoe, this renaissance, it’s cool to see someone coming in, taking an iconic property and modernizing it while keeping the traditions of the old,” Fair said. “I think this is going to be a great positive thing for our town.”

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