Back when George and Josephine Bacchi opened their namesake restaurant in 1932, weekday meals would cost you 50 cents and the famed chicken and raviolis on Sundays, just a dollar.
After 83 years and four generations of family ownership, Bacchi’s Inn in Tahoe City is one of the oldest, if not the oldest restaurant in Lake Tahoe.
It all began back in 1905 when the Bacchis arrived on Ellis Island from Sicily and eventually found their way to the Sacramento Valley in 1923.
“My grandfather and his cousin hauled vegetables up from the valley and sold them to restaurants and a couple of hotels up here,” explained Bill Hunter, grandson of George and Josephine. “And what was left over, my grandmother used to sell in a fruit and vegetable stand. She also cooked Italian dishes for some of the families up here.”
One such recipient of Josephine’s traditional Italian fare was wealthy philanthropist Lora J. Knight, who is well known for commissioning the construction of Vikingsholm castle in Emerald Bay, considered one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States. It was Knight who encouraged Josephine to start a restaurant, said Bill.
So the Bacchis constructed a cabin with an apartment on top, and opened up for business during the summer months. At that time, Tahoe was a warm weather destination and ski resorts were just starting to be established, with the first chairlift opening at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort in 1939. “Whatever she cooked that was it. You came in here and ate that or you didn’t eat,” said Bill.
Eventually Bill’s parents, William and Sarah, took over the family business. “The only thing they changed was actually having a menu,” recalled Bill, who now runs the Italian restaurant with his son, Everett.
Aside from removing abalone from the menu due to its steadily rising market price and expanding the cabin’s footprint with an addition up front, not much has changed over the years at Bacchi’s.
A blinking neon light beckons diners through a set of heavy wooden doors into a dimly lit lounge decorated with years of press coverage, photos of family and famous diners, and the ravioli tools Bill’s mother used for 40 years before the advent of a machine.
Red and white-checkered tablecloths are the backdrop for heaping plates of spaghetti topped with a gigantic meatball, calamari steak, veal scallopini ala Marsala and chicken parmigiana. Bottles of Chianti are tucked in nooks along the walls as candles flicker from the tables.
It’s where actor Peter Graves took his family to dine, and the cast and crew of “Bonanza” were known to hunker down for a meal while filming at the lake. When the Godfather was being produced in Tahoe, Al Pacino and Diane Keeton came in to eat and were told to come back the next night.
“My mother said, “Al, come back tomorrow we’re having a golf tournament tonight’ – and he did,” said Bill. “Al Pacino knows what an Italian mother looks like, and my mother was a true Italian mother.”
According to Everett, the fourth generation to run Bacchi’s, the reason for the restaurant’s longevity is simple: It’s all about family.
“Throughout the year we get repeat customers, multi-generational families,” said Everett, who grew up playing hide and seek in the dining room and rolling meatballs. “I see three generations of family at one table: the grandparents, the parents and the kids. The grandparents were coming when they were teenagers, and they’ve passed down the tradition to their kids and so on. It’s a Tahoe staple.”