MERIDEN — For 24 years Sans Souci restaurant has been a second home to longtime city resident Marna Evilia.
“I grew up here basically,” she said. “I was pregnant with my first daughter when we opened and I had her the next month.”
Evilia, who now has four children, became owner after the death of her father Walter Evilia in January.
“He left the business to me, so I’m just basically trying to run it the way I know he’d want me to run it,” she said of her father’s legacy.
Walter Evilia was elected mayor of Meriden in 1977 and 1983 before opening the American-style restaurant in 1993 with Marna Evilia’s mother, Mary Ellen Evilia, who died in 2003. The name Sans Souci — “without worry” in French — came about from the name of another restaurant in New York owned by a relative of the Evilias.
Souvenirs printed with the name “Sans Souci” from around the world, like beer brands and even a nursing home, are brought back by customers and displayed in the front lobby of the North Broad Street restaurant.
The stained glass roses from the previous restaurant, La Vie En Rose, decorate the walls and booths. Marna Evilia’s father’s “office” remains as the corner booth with a sign on the wall above that says “Reserved for Mayor.”
Marna Evilia said she doesn’t want to alter the feel of the family business.
“We’re like coming home and people will say that when they come in,” she said. “We’re trying to keep that, I don’t want to change that too much.”
Even the food has stayed true to the origins of the restaurant.
“To give everyone a good value with a great entree,” Marna Evilia said of her father’s consistent goal. “People come here and say. ‘wow your salad is too big, you should cut it in half,’ but that was his signature thing.”
The most popular menu item remains the Certified Angus Prime Rib of Beef. Sans Souci also serves martinis, pictured in the restaurant’s logo.
“I think our customers are a little bit on the older side, but they have a lot of regular items on the menu that they really enjoy,” said Mark Robinson, a chef at Sans Souci.
Robinson, like most of the staff, has been part of the restaurant team for over a decade. He and Marna Evilia have seen the same customers come back year after year, month after month and often week after week.
“It’s nice,” Marna Evilia said of the regulars. “Fridays we have the same customers, their booths are held.”
Though she doesn’t plan on changing much about the family restaurant, Marna Evilia is looking to add more accommodations for diners with allergies and food restrictions.
“We have to move into those times,” she said of the future. “It’s hard when you’re set in your ways in the kitchen, with the chefs, to move in that direction but we’re trying.”
Marna Evilia said she’s committed to keeping the restaurant around for her own children to possibly take the reins someday.
“For me my most memorable moment I have to say would be all being here together, working as one,” she said of her family. “Times change.”