MERIDEN — With a solid foundation and great teamwork from the start, Sans-Souci Restaurant was able to steer clear of the pandemic’s destruction and will be celebrating 30 years in business this October.
“Sans-Souci has a long-standing history in the city and we’re delighted that they’ve been in our community for nearly 30 years. They are such a wonderful community partner, and we can’t wait to celebrate with them,” said Rosanne Ford, president of the Midstate Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ll be having a celebration with specials and champagne to thank all of our customers. If it wasn’t for their loyalty even during COVID, where we had no idea what was going to happen, we wouldn’t be here,” said Marna Evilia, owner of Sans-Souci Restaurant. “We’re so happy and thankful.”
Just two years before the pandemic hit, Marna Evilia took over Sans-Souci Restaurant after the devastating loss of her father Walter Evilia, the former Meriden mayor, in January of 2018.
“The transition was rough, ” Evilia said. “My dad taught me very well, but there were things that he didn’t teach me that I had to learn on my own on the fly.”
Evilia kept the menu the same and implemented specials that are offered on weekends.
“We’re trying new things like ramen,” Evilia said. “We also have diverse appetizers. Our sous chef will come up with one from his nationality.”
Evilia did have to make a lot of structural and aesthetic fixes including the roof, the back wall and the garden.
“Recently we did the carpets, and the bar floor as well, and I would love to do more,” she added. “We were recently awarded ARPA (The American Rescue Plan Act) funding and we’re super excited about that so we’re working with them on that.”COVID strikes
Evilia shared that everything was going great — and then COVID hit, in March of 2020.
“So those were crazy times,” Evilia said. “We had no idea what was going to happen. We didn't know if we were going to float or sink, but we kind of just opened our minds to it and said, ‘OK, we’re going to just go with where we needed to go.’”
Saint Patrick’s Day was Sans-Souci’s last day fully open in 2020.
“Restaurants were only able to be open for to-go orders, but we never really did that before,” Evilia said. “We would do one a night and we would just panic because we didn’t know how to package it up. Our food isn’t really for to-go style. It's really big, heavy meals like the prime rib. What kind of container could you put it in so it’s not going to leak in the bag on the way home?”
Evilia also thought that if people were losing their jobs and being laid off, were they going to be able to afford their food? So she made the conscious decision to just close.
“We didn't think it was going to be for that long. We thought we were going to close for a week and then they would say, ‘OK, the state is back open again,’” she added.Persistence
Evilia was receiving many calls from customers wanting them to open. In April, she sat down with the chef about opening for Easter.
“We did a drive-through event,” she said. “We posted it all over social media and it turned out wonderful. I capped it at 200 orders because I thought we weren’t going to be able to handle it, but it ran so smoothly.”
Sans-Souci ran another drive-through event for Mother’s Day and did about 400 dinners.
“But what happened this time was we had so many cars pulling in, we couldn’t fit them all in the parking lot, so they were parked on the turnpike. So we had to rush it through a little bit,” Evilia said. “So that was a bit more nerve-wracking, but we did it.”
With great success and feedback, the restaurant opened for business on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays strictly to-go.
“I think we did that for two weeks, then we were able to do outside dining. We put two little popup tents out there,” Evilia said. “Then they started to allow indoor dining with a certain capacity of people, every other booth/table, and nobody at the bar, so we set up three tables, brought the bartender in and it was great.”
“I think it’s wonderful,” Ford said, “that Marna decided to continue the legacy after her dad passed, and I think she has really done a fabulous job leading the restaurant, especially through those tough times. She is certainly the epitome of a strong woman in business and especially in the restaurant industry.”Looking back in tears
Evilia shared that looking back, she could honestly cry.
“Like how did we do it?” she asked rhetorically. “The amount of money you had to spend on to-go containers, gloves, masks, sanitizer, staying 6 feet apart, etc. it was crazy. But as the health department told us what we could do, we just did it, and here we are today, back open and back to normal.”
Evilia added that it was amazing that they were able to adjust and persevere.
“Honestly, if I didn’t have my staff, my chef Mark Robinson, I wouldn’t have made it through COVID. (Robinson) has been the rock of the business,” she said.
Besides Evilia’s four children working for her, the Sans-Souci staff is like a family.
“Everyone works super hard and super well together. We’re laughing while we work. The staff hangs out outside of work. We all just get along,” she said. “I did lose a couple good staff members during COVID which was heart-wrenching. I honestly feel like some were scared of COVID and didn’t want to come back, or it was just their time to say I’m done with this business and this is my opportunity to get out and do something different.”
But the crew ultimately adjusted and Sans-Souci is thriving.
“It was scary times for everyone and it was sad watching restaurants going out of business and wondering who was going to survive and who wasn’t and things like that, but I genuinely thank everyone for their support from the bottom of my heart,” Evilia said.Ultimate praise
Sans-Souci was not only given praises by the Midstate Chamber of Commerce, who gave them the 2022 Business Leadership Award. They are praised by their customers as well.
“It’s a great spot to hold family and business events,” Ford said. “Many of our members use them for catering services too.”
Rosemarie Mucci and her parents had been going to the restaurant for years.
“I never had a bad meal, it is always fabulous and worth the cost,” Mucci said.
Though her parents have sadly passed away, Amy O’Donnell fondly remembers celebrating their 50th anniversary there.
“That day at Sans-Souci is a cherished memory,” she added. “Always great food and great staff; a true Meriden treasure. Congratulations on 30 years.”
This is Lori O’Brien and her husband’s favorite place.
“We love it there,” she said. “We have our favorite waitress and table in The Garden Room. “They have the best stuffed mushrooms, calamari, French onion soup, prime rib and even their salads are awesome.”
Mary Patzke Furgalack Muto grew up on Old North Colony Road within walking distance from Sans-Souci.
“It was Howard Johnson’s back in the day,” Patzke shared. “We had my mom’s 90th birthday party at Sans-Souci. She and her cousins would meet there occasionally for lunch, and although they would spend hours over lunch, they were never rushed out. For that I am eternally grateful.”
Dorene Morgillo-Sikorski absolutely loves the food, drinks and specials.
“Some of my favorites are the prime rib, steaks, and they have some of the largest shrimp cocktails I ever had,” she said. “They have a five-course special on Tuesday for an amazing price. The lounge in the back has great bartenders; when was the last time you had a dirty martini with a sidecar? What shines the most is the customer service, you’re always greeted when you walk in. This is a gem restaurant we have in Meriden.”Tips to succeed
Evilia shared some tips for those looking to get into the business.
“It’s a hard business to open up right now because of food costs,” Evilia said. “They are super high so if you could get a team together where you have a really good chef who knows how to use a product wisely across many dishes, you can do it.”
Everything is a team effort.
“Each team works just as hard,” Evilia said. “So if we don’t have everybody working cohesively together all the time, it’s never going to be successful.”
Be kind to your employees.
“Listen to what they may need,” Evilia said. “Hear them out and don’t dismiss them.”
It’s a great business to be in, but a hard one to be in as well.
“You have to know that you’re going to come in and it’s going to be your life, and I don’t know if that might scare people away, but it really is. You need to be present in the building,” Evilia said. “I’m not saying it needs to be every single day, but they need to see the owner here, present and working greeting clientele.”Not a restaurateur at first
Marna Evilia was born and raised in Meriden. Though she was brought up in the food business, she didn’t initially take that route.
“I received an accounting degree and worked in the accounting department for a corporation,” she said.
Her father purchased the building in 1993 and Sans-Souci Restaurant opened in October of 1994.
“I was four months pregnant and I was here with him cleaning cobwebs, tasting menu items, etc. We had wonderful times here,” Evilia said. “And my dad was a very well-known person, so from the moment he opened the doors, there was a line, and the business has been thriving.”
Evilia loves to work at the restaurant every day and plans to run it until she retires.
“This and my kids are my focus always,” Evilia said. “And I hope that someday maybe I can pass it on to my kids, if they want it.”
Sans-Souci Restaurant is located at 2003 North Broad St. and can be reached at 203-639-1777. It is open Tuesday-Friday from 11:45 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 4:30-9 p.m.; and Sunday, 3-8 p.m. It’s closed Mondays.
For more, visit the website at www.sanssoucirestaurant.com/ or on Facebook @SansSouciRestaurant or Instagram @sanssoucirestaurant.