It’s a late September evening, and the Tahoe Backyard is buzzing. Guitar music fills the air while kids chase each other between throngs of adults sipping pints of beer, noshing on food truck fare, and chatting with their friends and neighbors. The new Kings Beach locale is a reprieve for locals who have craved this scene for years.
Heather DeGuire, 38, is one such local. The Lanza’s waitress, who has lived in Kings Beach since she was 10, was there on this night with her husband, Trey, and their 8-year-old daughter, Ruby.
“Tahoe is overrun with tourism right now, so we don’t go out,” DeGuire said. “This is a place for the locals and the community. We need a place to go and relax and have fun.”
The Tahoe Backyard is the brainchild of Andrew and Christine Ryan, who bought the stucco building and property on Trout Avenue in February. Since then, the Kings Beach couple have been improving the property — removing graffiti, tearing down prism chain link fencing, adding lighting and picnic tables — and turning it into an outdoor community gathering space. The site, which already included a small brewery, now boasts an art collective and an outdoor space that bustled with local artisans and food trucks throughout the summer.
“It was sitting here a decade rotting,” Andrew said of the 1950s building that was originally a motel-turned-church before two separate veterinarians occupied it. “For me, I want a place where kids are proud of their town. Kings Beach is a hamlet; our buildings are tired.”
Andrew, a civil engineer, is no stranger to reviving dilapidated properties in Kings Beach, where he has lived since 1998. He took on both the Sun ‘N Sand Lodge and Wood Vista projects, as well as his own house, and a building on the eastern end of town that he and his wife turned into Hostel Tahoe. They owned the hostel from May 2007 to Dec. 2019, but when the Trout Avenue property — which is in the grid and includes parking — became available, they jumped at the chance.
“I’m always looking for some opportunity in Kings Beach. We need small projects,” said Andrew, noting he had been looking at properties for this outdoor concept. “It was the idea that this should feel like your backyard — barbecue, have a beer, bring your kids. Last year taught us that we can hangout outside in the winter, too.”
Nicole Stirling, who manages Tahoe Backyard and oversees bringing events and vendors to the space, is excited about the plethora of opportunities for the community. By next summer, she hopes to offer a farmers market and continue the weekly artisan market on the property.
“This property is going to provide a space for people to do business meetings, parties, vendors, classes,” Stirling said. “I cannot wait for the community to be able to participate and offer their skills and knowledge to other community members. There’s so many things we could do here.”
Stirling envisions hosting summer camps, yoga classes, poetry slams, and other activities. The space can also be rented out for private gatherings and business meetings.
“It’s a giant backyard; it can be used for anything,” the Kings Beach native said. “I love the idea of using it year-round.”
Stirling also owns Chickadee Art Collective, which she opened in the building on the property in August. She left her 10-year position as director of Incline Village Nursery School to open the collective and work full time as an artist. Stirling, who paints colorful mandalas and creates jewelry under the Stirling Studios moniker, said Kings Beach needed a dedicated space for artists.
“There are so many artists in our community that need to display and sell. We have so many talented artists on the North Shore,” the 42-year-old said. “There are a lot of underrepresented artists in the area.”
In addition to the 26 artists who sell their wares in Stirling’s shop, Tahoe Backyard will have three leasable spaces for artists to rent out in the future. Stirling said she hopes it can be a space where artists can connect, teach, and vend. This summer, Tahoe Backyard was a stop on the Kings Beach Art Tour and most Saturdays saw artists vending during the artisan market.
One such artist is Krystal Perez, who owns Efimera PR Design, and works with women from Mexico who make the necklaces, rings, and earrings she designs. The 32-year-old splits her time between Kings Beach, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, and is thankful to have a dedicated space to sell her jewelry.
“I feel like home having a space like this. I’m new in Tahoe and I didn’t have a place to sell and be part of a community,” said Perez, who sold her jewelry for two months every Saturday this summer in the Tahoe Backyard. “It’s very diverse. Being a Latina, it’s important. There are kids playing, dogs, a real community. It’s a good experience.”
Tahoe Bread Company owner Heather Zikas loves that she can sell her bread and pastries while her two kids run around. The Kings Beach resident, who mills her own whole wheat flour, converted part of her garage into a bakery during Covid. She was selling bread out of her driveway and had several drop-off points throughout Tahoe and Truckee.
“It’s something Kings Beach needs. Just to have a spot where people can eat and gather and socialize,” said Zikas, who started her Tahoe Backyard pop-up in July. “There are a lot of great people here. It’s going to continue to get better.”
When Adam Latham opened Bear Belly Brewing in Feb. 2020, he was the only tenant on the property. The former Jason’s bartender saw a need for a brewery in Kings Beach, so he opened a nano brewery and began building community. Locals flock to try his rotating beer selection with names like “Struggle Bus IPA,” “Low Life Lager,” and “Mountain Mango Wheat.”
“This is for my local community,” Latham said.
Tahoe Backyard owner Andrew Ryan calls Bear Belly Brewing his “anchor tenant,” noting that having a popular brewery already at the location was a big draw in purchasing the property. And Latham is pleased to be part of the vision. But the biggest problem?
“My biggest problem is growing but maintaining a connection to my community,” Latham said. “One of my biggest problems is selling out of beer.”