INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Hungry patrons file into Austin’s Restaurant during a steady mid-week lunch hour, greeting one another as though they’ve known each other for years, and odds are, they have. The restaurant may be teeming with visitors during the busy summer months, but it’s the year-round local clientele that keeps business booming at this quintessential Tahoe restaurant.
“Some days when we’re busy, I know every single person in here and the whole restaurant will be filled with people who know each other, who live and work here, and that is a great feeling for us,” said John Brimm, who co-owns the restaurant with his equally easy-going wife, Ashley. “We get all walks of life in this restaurant, all of the village people, and there’s a real community vibe in here.”
The Brimms purchased the restaurant from John’s parents more than a decade ago and began implementing their own style while upholding the quality, value, consistency and homemade recipes that are ingrained in the restaurant’s Texas roots.
As a longtime vegetarian, Ashley’s influence can be seen in the wide variety of meat-free items on the menu while John emphasizes locally sourced products. Together, the husband and wife team have had a heavy hand in crafting an environmentally sensitive operation through green building practices and the utilization of compostable packaging material — innovative methods that earned them an award as a Keep the Sierra Green business earlier this year.
“Being green is something that is important in our personal lives for sure,” Ashley said. “It was hard buying a restaurant that was already established and to then implement a little bit of ourselves into it because we didn’t want to change the recipes and the general restaurant, but at the same time we wanted to incorporate ourselves and our values.”
Ashley looks tenderly to her sidekick, John, who nods in agreement and echoes her sentiment.
“Our basic philosophy is it shouldn’t matter where you live, you should make positive choices for the environment, but we happen to live in one of most beautiful, pristine places on the planet and we want to be good stewards and do what we can,” John said humbly.
That stewardship toward the land is reflected in more than just their green building practices. John and Ashley frequent the East Shore beaches of Lake Tahoe during the summer, where they pick up trash and organize beach clean-ups with the help of local businesses, community members and friends.
“The East Shore is one of our favorite places to go in the summer and it really bums you out when you see trash, Styrofoam and cigarette butts,” John said. “Once the snow breaks to spring, we definitely want to get out there and do another clean up … everyone needs to have a hand in keeping Tahoe clean and blue.”
As married business partners, John and Ashley don’t seem to bicker much, if at all. They communicate well, support each other’s ideas and share the same positive energy that makes them easy to be around. They both insist the occasional argument does arise, but neither can seem to think of an example.
“We spend 99.9 percent of our time together and I think as a couple in this business, we’re forced to really bond and deal with each other, and for us, it’s really worked out,” John said. “We’re each other’s best friends and all that mushy stuff, and it works out well as a business relationship.”
Despite their near-13-year relationship, Ashley smiles bashfully at John’s assessment of their business partnership.
Ashley and John met at Austin’s more than 13 years ago when John hired Ashley to join the team of restaurant servers. The lovebirds started out as friends, but their feelings for one another quickly grew among the family owned establishment. Since taking the reins, Austin’s has continued to thrive under their leadership in a town crawling with other top-notch restaurants.
“There is a lot of competition in this town, bottom line, but I’ve never looked at it like that ... everyone fits in where they fit in and it’s really fun to hang out with other restaurateurs in this town,” John said.
“We love going out to eat at other places — this is a great, little community we live in for sure, and we all seem to support each other.”