In a place where businesses rise and fall with the uncertain tides of the tourism industry, the Soule Domain is a unique success story. And the man at the center of this story is no less unique.
Lifetime resident of Lake Tahoe, Charlie Soule has faced the odds to follow his dream of providing a distinctive fine dining experience in his hometown. After graduating from North Lake Tahoe High School, Charlie embarked upon his culinary journey washing dishes and making salads in Tahoe City and cut his teeth in various upscale eateries in the area. Charlie left Tahoe due to the brief distraction of attending college. He soon realized that Tahoe's beaches and ski slopes were calling him home, and cooking was his ticket back.
Charlie worked hard in some of Tahoe's finest eating establishments honing the skills he now employs on a nightly basis, but he didn't feel he was getting anywhere. That changed in 1985, when opportunity knocked, or rather rang. The phone. Soule's uncle, impressed by his exceptional work at orchestrating his Mom's 50th birthday dinner party, had called to ask Charlie if he thought he was ready to take off on his own. Charlie graciously accepted the offer, and the Soule Domain (or simply "the Soule") was born in the small log cabin behind the Tahoe Biltmore, where it still stands. "My uncle and aunt gave me the most wonderful opportunity in my life. And I've had fabulous help from the start."
Soule had confidence that whatever he lacked in expertise and business savvy, he could compensate for with his fiery passion for excellent food, his driving ambition, and sheer force of will. Charlie threw everything he had into his dream—literally. Moving in above the restaurant, Charlie cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two years, giving explicit form to his lifelong whatever it takes to do it and do it well work ethic.
How Charlie made it through that two-yearlong blur of fiery saute pans and flashing chef knives is anyone's guess, but once he'd established the Soule Domain as a gastronomic real deal and a legitimate business (no mean feat in the unforgiving seasonally oriented Tahoe economy), he began to plot the course for the restaurant's next twenty years.
In the beginning, the Soule's culinary signature was country French. Once Charlie decided to focus solely on dinner, though, Mediterranean and Asian Pacific rim flavors began to find their way onto the menu. Charlie understands and embraces the eclectic and diffuse elements that fuel the kitchens of the most daring and successful chefs, and when he gets some time off, he pores over the food sections of city papers or visits the city to see for himself what's happening. "Everything is a learning experience and I think that's what keeps us unique. Cooking is a challenge, it's competitive," says Soule. Not that that bothers him: "I love the quickness and I love the freshness. I love the heat." A visit to the Soule Domain provides ample proof of that, where on a given night, one may find oneself seamlessly traveling from a ranch kitchen in Guadalajara, Mexico to an open-air market in Morocco, to a tea and fish shop in Bangkok. (Dessert will be served in Rome, Paris, or New York.)
He follows trends in the nutritional world as well: "Years ago, we weren't really educated on the processing of ingredients or additives in the food we were buying. Now, if my suppliers can't get me fresh, organically grown products, I'll search them out. It may cost more, but that's what I want to serve."
Ten years into his twenty-one year run, Charlie's younger brother Stephen arrived to take control of the floor as manager and head waiter. Steve's quick wit, easy warmth, and consummate professionalism as the face of the Soule have endeared him to regulars. His addition to the roster has only increased the unforgettable appeal of an evening spent at the Soule Domain. "I asked him to join me. He deserves a lot of the credit," says Charlie. "We share the responsibilities—we get along well." And they do their job well. I.e., providing a superb dining experience with exceptional food and service. The high caliber of expertise and plain human warmth are also reflected in the people who work for Charlie and Steve.
Charlie explains his business model succinctly: "I want my guests to walk away feeling like they had a complete experience—full of good food at a good price, having had a good time."
Perhaps that is why the Soule Domain has been voted the "Best Place to Take a Date" by the North Tahoe Truckee Action Guide for thirteen years running. Warm and cozy with a fire burning in the winter, open and airy with the Dutch door ajar and ceiling fans lazily spinning in the summer, tasteful cool jazz or classical music quietly playing as an aural backdrop, an evening with that special someone at the Soule is always romantic. The lighting is subdued, but not dark. The fresh flowers on each table are an elegant accent. Steve is a wizard at helping you to decide on the perfect wine from the restaurant's surprisingly extensive fine wine list, and the servers have an uncanny ability to sense when they're needed and when you'd like to be left alone with your date.
The log cabin is small and charming, but inside, it doesn't feel stuffy. With exposed rafters under a high roof, there is a feeling of spaciousness combined with the intimacy of the cabin's size. The decor is plain and understated, yet distinctive. Soule family artifacts and heirlooms abound, along with vintage photographs from around the lake. It all lends itself to an alluring atmosphere which complements the excellent food and service.
The essence of what the Soule Domain is about is the nightly endeavor of transcending the ordinary to make the taste buds sing, to make the heart happy, and to make customers friends. After twenty-one years of rising to this challenge and meeting it with self-assured deftness, it appears that Charlie has proven that his uncle knew a sure thing when he saw it.
"Every dish is a specialty of the house." —Charles Soule, Head Chef/Proprietor