It was in December of 1990 when Graham Rock first welcomed guests to the restaurant on Squaw Valley Road that bears his name. Twenty-five years later, many of those early patrons are still stalwart customers and now long-time friends.
“I love my business because I love socializing with people,” explains the British-born restaurateur.
Rock first started out in Squaw Valley in the late ’80s, running the Backstage Bistro in the old Squaw Valley Opera House which is now the Far East complex. After two years, the opportunity arose to move across the street into the original home of Wayne and Sandy Poulsen, co-founders of the ski area, and Rock has been doling out delicious comfort food and good will ever since.
Within the property, which was the first residence ever built in Squaw, Rock also maintains the Christy Inn Lodge, which consists of five snug guestrooms separated from the restaurant. Just a short distance across the street from the Far East lift and next door to a ski shop, it’s become a popular getaway for those looking to escape traffic and desire something out of the ordinary.
As far as his success in the restaurant business, Rock professes a simple formula for his longevity. “We create cravings,” he says. “Patrons know we do certain things, and we do it consistently well.”
The many regulars who frequent the cozy restaurant also know that the menu contains many items not usually found in resort areas. Entrees such as osso bucco, grilled scallops and a buffalo rib-eye are year-round customer favorites. In the colder months, Chef Rudi Martinez will add specialty dishes like cassoulet or rabbit fricasse with pasta.
“Rudi has a unique ability to take an idea and develop it,”says Rock. “But we stick with the favorites we have developed through the years, and that’s what our customers expect. They know if they come in on a Monday, it will be the same menu as on Saturday.”
One of Martinez’s most popular creations is the seafood chowder. Rock recalls a patron from Boston who was especially enamored with it.
“He owned a famous restaurant in Boston which, of course, served chowder,” says Rock. “He ordered two bowls and afterward he said, ‘I guess now I have the second best chowder in America.’”
Rock’s adherence to consistency is also reflected in his staff – practically everyone-Rudi, Peter, Liz, Kat and Big Al – have been with him since the start. And some of his regular customers include the very people who grew up in the building.
“The Poulsens are good landlords and great friends,” says Rock. “We all miss Sandy’s personalty and humor. I remember once I told her she was like a mother to me and joked she should adopt me. Sandy retorted, ‘So, you are charging your own mother for dinner?’
“But on any given night you might find her sons Russell or Eric dining here, and they graciously tell stories about growing up in this building. People just love to hear the history.”