Life often takes Tahoe kids away from the lake once they graduate from high school. In fact, just a handful of my classmates from North Tahoe High School are still living in Tahoe and prospering a few decades after graduation. Charlie Soule and his brother, Steve, who run the Soule Domain restaurant, are two of the lucky few.
Steve, left, and Charlie Soule
Charlie and Steve moved to Tahoe with their parents in 1969, quickly making their way to what would become their family home on Steelhead Avenue in Kings Beach. It was a tight fit for the four children and their parents in a three-bedroom house with just one bath. But in those days, Kings Beach was your home, not your house.
“But I had a VW bug, a few pair of skis, and lived
in a rental house in Squaw Valley,
what did I have to lose? Iwasn’t expecting it;
I felt really blessed. – Charlie Soule
“You could sneak down to the main drag, go to the record store, flirt with girls, grab some ice cream or take amazing hikes into the woods with your pals. It was a good place to grow up,” said Steve.
Charlie’s story of becoming a successful restaurateur began a little rocky. In his senior year at NTHS in 1976 he wrecked a friend’s car and needed to pay for it, so he got a job as a dishwasher at the Tom Foolery Restaurant in Tahoe City. He worked through the summer then went off to college, but the following year he was back at the restaurant.
“I started cooking, got my season pass, skied all the time, worked nights. I never went back to college,” Charlie says.
He needed to embellish his resume to get a job in the kitchen of The Pines and Hugo’s at the Hyatt in Incline Village, but he learned a lot about cooking, until he got fired. He headed off to San Diego, seeking a new start. But the job market was tough, so he returned to Tahoe broke and frustrated to live with his parents.
Finally, it was time for his first big break. He took a job at Christy Hill in Olympic Valley.
“That’s when I realized there was a future for me in cooking, Matt and Debbie were only a few years older than me and owned this really nice restaurant. They seemed to be totally happy. To me it seemed like a really cool thing, as opposed to just cooking as a job,” said Charlie.
In 1985, after working for Christy Hill for several years, his Uncle, who had recently inherited some money and was looking for a good investment, was impressed with Charlie’s culinary skills. He asked Charlie what he thought of the log cabin restaurant for sale next to the casinos.
“At first I’d thought, why would anyone go there when they could eat in the casinos for 99 cents? But I had a VW bug, a few pair of skis, and lived in a rental house in Squaw Valley, what did I have to lose? I wasn’t expecting it; I felt really blessed,” said Charlie.
He was just 26 years old, had never been a manager and now backed by his Uncle, he was going to run a restaurant. He called it Soule Domain (when he worked at Christy Hill whenever he was in charge they said it was Soule’s Domain) He started serving breakfast, lunch and dinner while living in the quarters above the restaurant.
“It was a lot of work and wearing me down. I wanted to be known for dinner, that was what my passion was,” said Charlie. He cut back to dinners only, which has made the restaurant successful ever since.
Meanwhile, Steve graduated from North Tahoe High School in 1982. He attended Sierra College, then Santa Rosa College. “I was a good student, but wasn’t anywhere close to a degree, I wasn’t into it, but thought I was supposed to go to college,” Steve said.
In 1989, Charlie called him for help. He needed someone to run the front of the restaurant, but at first Steve wasn’t ready to return to Tahoe. He finally relented and for many years, they have been a well-oiled machine.
“We have a great working and personal relationship,” Steve says, “I’m the front house guy. The last word on the floor. He is the last word overall. He is chef/owner; he does the menus, wine and scheduling. I’m the guy who coordinates the dining room,” says Steve.
They feel they are in the right place for the success of the restaurant, “Steve has really good social skills. They love it and they love him,” Charlie said.
While the overall leader is Charlie, it is Steve who best describes the Soule Domain experience: “The food is delicious, using well-sourced ingredients, put together creatively in some cases, and traditionally in other cases. Some menu items will make the staid palates happy, while aggressive foodies will also be entertained.”
While Charlie is busy cooking, Steve focuses on keeping the dining room “stunning to look at in every season. As a floor staff it is our job to be welcoming and accommodating and pleasant.” A number of times the Soule Domain has won awards for the Best Place to Take A Date. While Steve loves the accolades he says, “It is so much more than that; it is very unique dining experience.”
Charlie loves to travel, especially when it gives him a chance to visit places like San Francisco, New Orleans and France, where he can sample some of the world’s best restaurants. They are both addicted to rooting for their favorite sports teams, although they are not necessarily supporting the same teams.
Keeping a restaurant running and successful in Tahoe for 30 years is a tough feat. It takes courage, a lot of hard work, a bit of luck, and in this case, a pair of brothers who know how to work together and stay out of each other’s way.
For more information, visit souledomain.com.