When the 1960 Olympics solidified the rise of skiing in Tahoe six decades ago, it accidentally did another thing: It changed the way people visited North Lake Tahoe. Jim Phelan, general manager of the Tahoe City Marina, was a young man then and remembers that Tahoe City went from being a summer destination with a few essential general stores (think: the original Rosie’s) to a year-round vacation spot. The increased tourism fueled a sharp rise in lodging and retail options for this lakeshore town, and as Squaw Valley wasn’t the entertainment hub it is today, après ski indulgences also happened here.
Seeing the opportunity for growth, the San Rafael-based Moana Corporation, then-owner of the Tahoe Boat Company (now the Tahoe City Marina) and several other area establishments, erected the Boatworks Mall, which opened its doors in 1977. They built this retail and restaurant hub in downtown Tahoe City on a piece of land that was separate from the Tahoe Boat Company’s property, next to the busy Roundhouse Mall and Chart House Restaurant. The little hub of popular spots grew to draw locals and visitors alike.
Phelan remembers the hustle and bustle on the mall’s arrival to Tahoe City.
“As we grew up here in the ’70s and early ’80s this was kind of like the only game in town. In the summertime this [area] was the spot. [Within it], you had Hacienda, Jake’s, Chart House, the oyster bar, a wine shop, another little spot where Mountain Lotus is now, and a pizzeria. It was new, exciting, and people went for it,” he said. “It was something different.” (Hacienda announced recently and suddenly that the restaurant is closing.)
The mall itself is a sturdy wooden structure with handsome glass windows and an expansive interior. Staircases and walkways wrap both the inside and outside of the building; it even boasted an open-air design at its inception. But when it filled with snow during winter, the developers thought better of it.
Changes are part of the mall’s history. For some time, the center of it contained an enclosed garden shop that was later converted into an open-air garden until it was removed in 2019 by the building’s new owners, MJD Capital Partners. Scuttlebutt says there are big changes afoot for the mall, but when asked what the future holds, MJD declined to comment.
Yet, for now, some things remain. As Boatworks made its name during a new era of development in Tahoe City, it became a long-term home for several businesses that have stayed the course for three-plus decades in the space. Here, we check in with three of them.
Jake’s on the Lake
Few can think of the Boatworks mall without Jake’s on the Lake coming to mind. In fact, the restaurant is part of the mall’s genetics. As Moana was looking for an eatery to occupy their new mall, it recruited T S Restaurants, a family-owned group that had (and still has) locations in Hawaii. Jake’s opened in 1978 and today is fully owned by then-partners Chris and Amber Thibaut. The stunning space featured lakefront dining both indoors and outdoors, and a full bar that was home to many packed après ski gatherings.
Back in the day, Chris recalls, many of Jake’s clientele were college graduates who’d moved to Tahoe from the Bay Area looking for a slower pace of life. These people were known for working and playing hard. That meant a packed bar and lots of good times at Jake’s, becoming a de facto home for many. (See p. 23 for a glimpse of its role in North Shore’s cultural history.)
But fun is not all that Jake’s focuses on. For over 40 years, the restaurant has beckoned those with a taste for the islands. Having lived and worked in Hawaii for a time, Chris collaborated with head chef Russell Coffman to develop a menu that focuses on high-quality steak and seafood, with flavors reminiscent of the volcanic paradise and “all the local and sustainable produce we can find.”
As their motto says, “Come to altitude and let Tahoe change you with Jake’s mountain Aloha.”
Kiss and Makeup
Jennifer Ergut-Holmes’s makeup and waxing studio may appear tucked away at Boatworks, but it’s become a staple service as the wedding industry continues to take the region by storm. In the oh-so-familiar story, Ergut-Holmes came for a winter at age 19 and promptly stayed forever.
“I fell into this by accident, literally,” she says, “I guess I was looking for a career, but I didn’t really know what. A hairdresser friend of mine said, ‘I really think you should go to beauty school.’ I’ve always been really artistic and creative and when I graduated … I met a makeup artist who was opening up a little studio in the Boatworks Mall and needed employees, and the rest is history.”
In 1998, celebrity makeup artist Yvette Beebe had just wrapped up Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope Tour and found herself at Lake Tahoe, bringing to life the studio where Ergut-Holmes got her start. When Beebe moved to the Bay Area to launch a makeup line in 2006, Ergut-Holmes took over, redecorated, and named it Kiss and Makeup. While Beebe had operated a shop that was part makeup studio, part beauty, bath, and body retail store, Ergut-Holmes made a few changes that would help the business last through the years.
“Things were changing [and] we started to see a lot of transition from Tahoe City locals moving to Truckee. I realized it was a little bit less about the retail and more about the service and I’ve kind of stuck to that for all these years,” she says.
Since then, her rich career has been an exciting mixture of providing services like eyebrow waxing and tinting for local women and tourists alike at the brick-and-mortar studio, doing makeup consultations and bridal makeup throughout the region, and working with numerous celebrity clients, such as LeBron James, Shaun White, and Julia Mancuso.
The shop, which is open when she’s not on-location, is complete with a selection of cosmetics and even an offering of Ergut-Holmes’ side passion: vintage clutch bags.
Steve Schmier’s Jewelry
When he’s not quietly fly-fishing from his favorite spot tucked away on the Truckee River, Michael Grant can be found working in his craft of jewelry making and repair — at one of the few stores that still stand from the mall’s first year open. Grant began training in this industry at just 16 years old, later going on to open a jewelry repair location in Sacramento that he owned for 11 years. Then he heard about a shop at Tahoe that was going on the market.
“This store went up for sale in 1988. I grew up camping and fishing up here, [so] I came up and looked and bought it from Steve Schmier,” he said.
Over the years he saw the mall go through many iterations. When the mall was young, “Back then, Tahoe City was the place, and the Boatworks was one of [the] places that were the hub of the area,” he reminisces.
Part of Grant’s success is due to his passion for the craft, and the other part is likely due to his philosophy about running the store.
“My business is my hobby. I can’t wait to get up and come to work. I have to be drug out of work,” he says.
And as for the shop itself, folks can select a stunning piece of jewelry from the offerings, or look at a bunch of options, decide which components they like, and have a piece custom-made.
“We run our jewelry family-style. This is a little tiny store, but it’s kind of a clubhouse. All through the day people drop in from all over — San Diego, the Bay Area, Reno … this is small and intimate … and people like that experience,” Grant says.
Over the years he’s built and worked on rings adorning the hands of many Tahoe locals. While he has concerns about how times have changed — in the old days people used to “collect things and buy art,” and that has tapered off — business is still good.
“I’ve been to foreign trade shows in Europe, Asia, Brazil,” he shared. “I’m in a fabulous business.”