In its heyday — from the 1960s through the 1980s — Bacchi’s Inn would serve an average of 375 meals a day. Guests sat family style on red-and-white gingham tablecloths, spending hours enjoying large tureens of minestrone soup, salad, antipasto, the restaurant’s renowned homemade ravioli, and a plethora of main courses that once included chicken livers and sweetbreads.
“I wish I kept track of how many raviolis we made over the years,” recalled fourth-generation co-owner Everett Hunter, recently in a conversation with Moonshine Ink. For the past 10 years, Everett has run Bacchi’s with his dad, Bill Hunter. “We would make them in big, long sheets. I remember back when we were really busy — when I was really young — my dad and my uncle would be making raviolis three or four times a summer. That would be 20,000 raviolis right there in a summer.”
After 90 years, the famed Tahoe City locale served its final meal on Sept. 11. After working with a skeleton crew of four people for the past year, the father and son duo decided it was time to close the doors on their Italian family restaurant.
“It is just too hard,” said Bill Hunter, 78, who also lived in an apartment above the restaurant. “Basically, you can’t hire anybody anymore … Keeping it going is too costly.”
While Bill has retired (to “spend his evenings and weekends with family and friends while perfecting his golf game and storytelling,” according to the Bacchi’s Facebook page) and Everett, 40, moves on to other ventures, their customers are left with fond memories. Aaron Rudnick, whose family took him to Bacchi’s as a kid and then became a regular as an adult, said the restaurant “became home” for him.
“The minute you walked in the door, time on the outside stopped,” Rudnick, 39, said. “No matter what the night held in store for you, there was always time for Bacchi’s.”
Mo Millican, 32, who lives in Lake Forest across from Bacchi’s, was a regular for the past three years.
“We are losing a place that was like family,” she said. “It’s not just losing a restaurant; it is a very, very cool place.”
It Began with a Produce Stand
George and Josephine Bacchi, Bill’s grandparents, immigrated from Sicily in 1905 to the U.S. through Ellis Island. They settled in Sacramento and first came to Lake Tahoe in 1923.
As the restaurant’s history page on its website (now defunct) shared the story, “George and his brother-in-law, Frank Saia, established a fruit and vegetable route to bring fresh produce from the Sacramento Valley to the Lake Tahoe area. They rented space for their produce stand from resident Carl Bechdolt, Sr. in Tahoe City. At the same time, Josephine Bacchi prepared homemade raviolis, chicken cacciatore, and various Italian delicacies for the wealthy homeowners in the Lake Tahoe area.”
Josephine’s cooking caught the attention of philanthropist Lora J. Knight, the St. Louis heiress who’d commissioned the construction of the 1929 Vikingsholm Castle in Emerald Bay. Knight encouraged Josephine to open a restaurant. With milled logs from Bob Watson’s Lumber Mill, where George worked, they built a cabin on Lake Forest Road — which was the main North Shore highway at the time before Highway 28 was constructed nearby. In 1932, at the beginning of the Great Depression, Bacchi’s was born.
“Out front, two gasoline pumps served passing motorists,” stated a 1969 Sierra Sun article on the restaurant. “Within, a grocery store occupied half the building and Josephine cooked in a tiny kitchen to serve diners in the dining room occupying the other half of the building.”
Weekday meals only cost diners 50 cents, while Josephine’s famed fried chicken and raviolis on Sundays cost a dollar. George and Josephine operated the restaurant and fruit stand each summer for 15 years. Then their daughter, Sara, and her husband, William Hunter, took over in 1949 and operated the restaurant until Sara died in 1978. Sara and William’s son, Bill Hunter, and his wife, Heidi Hendrikson Hunter, operated the restaurant from 1978 until Heidi’s death in 2012, after which Bill and son Everett managed operations, with Bill in the kitchen and Everett taking over front-of-the-house duties.
Bacchi’s has famously served the likes of actors Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Peter Graves, Lucille Ball, and the cast of Bonanza. But the restaurant also played host to the 1960 Italian Olympic team. And then there was the mafia.
“A lot of mobsters ate in here,” said Bill, noting that his parents knew lots of wealthy people. “When I was a kid, I knew a lot of gangsters.”
Times, They Are A-Changing …
While four generations kept Bacchi’s going for 90 years, making it the oldest single-family run restaurant in Lake Tahoe, the Tahoe icon was not immune to outside changes.
In the early 1950s, the Lake Forest road that Bacchi’s stood next to was dirt, and all visitors to the lake would pass by the restaurant. Then Highway 28 was built a short distance away, putting the restaurant out of view. Bacchi’s still stands on Lake Forest Boulevard, which is now a paved loop road, and it is easily missed by those passing to Tahoe City.
“That cost us a lot,” Bill said of the building of Highway 28. “People don’t know where we are.”
The family would put signs on Highway 28 directing folks to Bacchi’s, but then the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency was formed in 1969 and with new regulations, the signs had to come down.
Bacchi’s did see change over the years, with the cabin eventually taking on a stone front and a fireplace. In 1959, the dining room was expanded, but the front-section bar area still filled the old, original log cabin.
The menu also was altered — in what Bill called a “forced change.” Josephine originally included cow brains in her raviolis, and chicken livers and sweetbreads were once staples, as were anchovies with the antipasto. Abalone was also served. But, as palates and cuisine shifted, so did the menu.
“You have to go with the flow,” Bill contended.
What never changed were the portion sizes.
Bill Riva, 76, was a Bacchi’s customer for 49 years and loved getting chicken and ribs. “The food stayed consistent; the volume stayed the same,” he said. “The menu changed over the years. But they are famous for overserving at Bacchi’s.”
Bill and Everett said they will miss the customers and seeing generations of families grow up within the walls of Bacchi’s.
“I want to say thank you to everybody that has ever been here and enjoyed themselves,” Everett told Moonshine Ink. “Thanks for the memories and for making Bacchi’s what it is and what it was.”