By Rae and Troy Matthews
We’ve been intrigued by Moonhouse Brewhouse for a long time. As frequent shoppers at Grassroots Natural Foods, It’s impossible not to look across the parking lot and see this fantastic, old, funky, blue building. Step on in and you’re greeted with a wholly homey, Tahoe coffeehouse and restaurant. We were thrilled to speak with Justine Martin and Jake Bertheaume about their unique concept: from restaurant to distillery to community watering-hole.
Martin calls Moonhouse a “feast for your senses. We want people to come in and have an experience.” Moonhouse opened in April of 2016 and has been steadily developing a cult following. “We moved to Tahoe three and a half years ago with the dream of opening a little tea shack.” Martin reminisces, “Something kind of funky, kind of cool. And we fell in love with the building, and the dream kind of grew to fit the space.”
When asked about her position, Martin identified herself as the “coffee queen.” “I grew up in a coffee shop on both sides; my mom had a coffee shop as well as my dad. He owned a cool coffee truck. So I’ve just grown up with a little caffeine in my blood always …we want people to really have an authentic good cup of coffee. This is what it’s supposed to taste like. We only have whole milk and almond milk. We’re not going to do fat-free, because it’s not as good.”
Bertheaume is a trained chef from Wisconsin who discussed his concept for a rotating, all-organic, from-scratch lunch and – eventually – dinner menu. “I cooked in Minneapolis, Minnesota for about a decade before I moved out here. No intention really of working in the restaurant business or cooking, I just kind of moved out here for the snow and wanted to have fun.”
After living the ski bum dream for a bit, Bertheaume got the itch to get back into the business. He found Martin and her partners in the most millennial way possible: through a Go Fund Me page. “Within a day of putting up a Go Fund Me, these guys found me.”
Chef Bertcheaume tries to keep everything as fresh, seasonal, and local as possible. For the time being, his focus is sandwiches, because the restaurant is limited to lunch take-out. The best thing about Moonhouse cooking is the home-made, in-house smoker, “We have a big smoker out back we built ourselves. We used all the old brick that was in front of the building… all of our proteins are smoked in house. Our tri-tip, so we’ve been told, is the best tri-tip that a lot of Californians have had.”
We tried the famous Moonhouse roasted veggie tacos with black bean and corn salsa and sweet potato hot sauce; the tri-tip tacos with pepper jack cheese, pickled red onion, balsamic roasted tomato, and chimichurri; and the grilled cheese sandwich, which changes daily. Ours featured pepper jack and corn and black bean salsa.
The grilled cheese was tangy, gooey, and delicious. The tri-tip tacos were perfectly cooked with zesty chimichurri and tomato. The veggie tacos were so delicious they make an impressive argument for vegetarianism, and, as solid meat-eaters, that’s saying something.
And, of course, we tried Martin’s famous cappuccino made from Vaneli’s Hand Crafted Coffee. It ruined us for all other cappuccinos.
So why just take-out and not dine-in? In the spirit of dealing with the rather unique ways of Tahoe, Moonhouse is currently accepting donations to pay for additional sewer units from STPUD. It’s about capacity. Martin explains, “We do not have the correct number of sewer units to allow for seating, so we have been doing fundraising. We’ve opened ourselves up to investors to purchase the sewer units so that we can have a maximum of 49 people indoors, and…40 people outdoors.” Once they get the sewer units the plan is to full sit-down dinner service.
Neither of them identified themselves as the owner of the establishment. What we thought was modesty at first turned out to be very deliberate. Moonhouse is an employee owned co-op. They don’t have employees, they have members. Every customer that comes in is given the opportunity to invest in the business, either in money or time.
“People just don’t work as hard if it’s not their own dream,” Martin says, “so we wanted to create something that was not equal, but equitable, so if you put in hard work and time and energy you’re going to get rewarded for it.”
The Moonhouse crew is a family; several of them actually live upstairs. The upstairs portion of the building is a four bedroom apartment. It also has its own kitchen, two dogs, and maybe even a couple of (friendly) ghosts. “It’s a big happy family up there,” says Martin.
In addition to brewing their own kombucha and ginger soda, Moonhouse will soon have a distillery operation through a merger with Tahoe Moonshine Distillery. Their plans are to provide their own style of whisky and other craft liquors, totally unique to Tahoe. “We are really able to get into craft cocktails, doing super small batch cacao whiskys, cucumber gins, just crazy stuff that you’re not going to get on the shelf anywhere else,” says Martin.
Moonhouse is looking to begin their distilling operations in mid-July 2017, or possibly as late as Labor Day. Martin laughs, “Tahoe-time up here is a real thing… we have a production facility off-site, but we’ll do a small still here, and keep that the really small batch crafty flavors.” Moonhouse will also feature beer taps by Sidellis Brewery and South Lake Brewing Co. in order to “promote the local beverage culture.”
To really get to know the Moonhouse, check out one of their “Full Moon Parties,” with live music each month. This month we got to visit during the “flower moon” party in May with a focus on spring and renewal. Martin wants Moonhouse to be, “everyone’s clubhouse. This isn’t a get-in/get-out kind of restaurant. We want people to hang out with us. This is why we’re doing it. For good times. Good times, great people and more good times.” Excellent motto.
We love seeing young entrepreneurs in the restaurant field coming up with new ideas and taking the risks that the family at Moonhouse is taking. Their concept is absolutely Tahoe and completely millennial. The two words that were inescapable at the end of our experience were: Tahoe, perfected. What else do you need? As always, we’ll see you there.