Enjoying breakfast in Alpine County | RecordCourier.com

Enjoying breakfast in Alpine County

by Lisa Gavon
R-C Alpine Bureau
Heather Steinbuck, Leah Radach, Vivian Powers, and John Baker on the Alps Haus bar stools.
Lisa Gavon

He woke up and she wasn’t there. He called out her name and searched everywhere in the house, but there was no response. John Baker started to make a mental list of where his wife, Karrie Baker might be. The day before they had received final clearance to open Alps Haus in downtown Markleeville. Among the many special things their internet cafe would offer, it included breakfast, lunch, sweet treats, soft serve ice cream and speciality coffee drinks. John and Karrie, along with their son Allen were excited about this new business, slated to officially open a month later. He decided to try looking there first.

When he arrived, he found Karrie had risen at sunrise, gone into town for supplies, and was busy working. John told her their grand opening was weeks away, but Karrie responded that “People need sandwiches now.” It is this kind of drive that has characterized their lives. They are a “mountain-power couple,” determined to combine their love for the history, land, and people of Alpine County into a business that brings great benefits to the community.

Raised in South Lake Tahoe from the age of 3 years, John shows a true gratefulness for the mentoring he received from Ari and Tina Makinen and Al and Patty Moss. In fact, their son Allen is named after “Papa Al.” Al and Patty had created a remarkable “pay-it-forward” model, opening businesses, growing them until they were successful, and then passing them along to a loyal long-term employee who had helped to make them stable. From the age of 15, John worked at the Chevron owned by the Al and Patty, eventually purchasing Emerald Bay Towing (run out of the Chevron location) from them. Using the skills they taught him, he has created many other thriving ventures, including Emerald Bay, Silver State and Fallon Towing, Eloise Automotive and a locksmith company.

Karrie grew up in San Ramon and worked at the popular Togo’s Sandwich Shop when she was just 16 years old. Two weeks after she turned 18 she got her real estate license and eventually settled into doing real estate appraisals. After relocating to Tahoe in 1988 she worked with another appraiser for a few years and then opened her own business, Advanced Appraisal Services. Karrie enjoyed the perfect Tahoe combination of skiing and working. In addition to their other ventures, Karrie still runs her appraisal business.

John and Karrie were set up by a friend, and on their third date, they visited the land John had purchased in Alpine County. Living in Tahoe, John didn’t get down to the property very often. When they stepped out of the truck, Karrie felt the magic. It was obvious “this was the place.” She said they could get married, build their house right there, and raise a family. John said it was “somewhat overwhelming,” but when he looked in her eyes, he knew it was right. Within a week, Karrie had the house plans drawn up. They both have a gift for making things happen, getting married on the beach in Tahoe after Karrie ran in a triathlon the same day.

The concept for this particular cafe came from the oft expressed desire by local residents to have a year-round place that was open everyday: someplace that they could count on being there. The key component to make this happen was the legendary Heather Steinbuck. Heather and John were friends since they went to Tahoe High School together, and John and Karrie knew she had all the skills and background to make this a unique place. Heather’s family ran the locals favorite eatery in Tahoe: Chris’ Cafe in Meyers. She was there from 1986 to 2006 when her father Dave and mother Chris retired. After multiple requests, she has obtained the secret recipe from her dad, and added “Dave’s Famous Chili” to the menu. People remembered it even though so many years had passed. Heather worked at Cowboy’s Cafe after Chris’, and has been in Markleeville for the last 8 years. She has 2 daughters and one son, and is the type of person who goes above and beyond for her customers. Eventually, just as the Moss’ did for John, Heather will make a seamless transition from Manager to owner.

The Alps Haus building is in the heart of Markleeville at the nexus of Main Street and Hot Springs Road. Originally known as Monty Wolf’s Trading Post, it was built in 1964 by Doug Ford and offered fly fishing supplies. Our local backhoe operator Fritz Thornburg dug the incredibly large basement. After that, Mike and Janna Gard ran Grover’s Corner there until Evelyn Yonkers turned it into an Art Gallery. Then Laura Barr and Jim Burt ran Marleeville Art and Soul until the present incarnation as the Alps Haus was envisioned. There is an interesting display of historic photos of the place put together by Nancy Thornburg hanging on the wall.

Markleeville has a lot of Pacific Crest Trail hikers that come into the little town to check in with civilization and get supplies. John and Karrie set up a binder so they can sign in to let their families know where they are and that they are OK. It is a significant kindness to have the internet bar there for these travelers, and an important tool to make sure there are no missing or injured individuals out in the mountains. John also feels very strongly that the bathroom is open to anyone visiting that needs it. “That’s how we always handled it at the Chevron in Tahoe.” he reports. It is this thoughtfulness and consideration for people that reflect the true nature of the Baker family.

They carry the work of local artists, including photographer Vivian Powers (who also is employed at the cafe). Woodturner Dave Mill’s finely crafted pieces are represented, history books by Karen Dustman, and crocheted hats and scarves by Courtney Brothers. The welcoming interior is filled with unusual antiques and the often photographed bar stools that John and Karrie had specially made, making them look like the rear of a horse and a cowboy with spurs. Their son Allen runs a hot-dog cart “Malibu Dogs” outside in the summer months.

The couple just purchased the Markleeville Gas Station and are doing a huge remodel. It will open as “Al’s got Gas, Bait, and Tackle” this April. It will include a sports shop with recreational and outdoor supplies, along with propane and bike rentals. John is on the Board of the Historical Society, a School Board member, and a Volunteer Fireman. Karrie is a Board member on the Fire Safe Council, the Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Economic Development Committee. All of this makes it obvious that they do not get any sleep, and that their dedication to our Alpine Community knows no bounds.

Alps Haus is open everyday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. offering such selections as the warm and comforting breakfast bowl that has 2 eggs, ham, seasoned potatoes and cheddar cheese. They serve locally roasted Alpen Sierra coffee for all their specialty drinks. Heather is a “Soup-Ninja” and has an ever-changing selection to delight your taste buds. Come in and discover you have a new favorite place to go for breakfast and lunch. Their website is alpshauscafe.com. You can call in your order at 530 694-9494.