Freshies Restaurant & Grill celebrates 15 years with heavy heart
With Lake Tahoe’s beaches just across Highway 50, you might not notice the small shopping center on the other side of the road. But for almost 15 years it’s been home to a locals’ favorite, Freshies Restaurant & Grill.
“We knew we could make it here,” owner Erik Ulman said of his and his wife Melody’s decision to open a Hawaiian-inspired restaurant back in 2000. The two former snowboard instructors, Tahoe residents and seasoned service industry workers wanted to do something different — something to fill a niche and add to the South Shore restaurant scene.
“It was one of my favorite places to come before I worked here,” longtime restaurant employee Leanne Hulmes said.
Describing restaurant diversity on the South Shore prior to Freshies, she said, “it lacked that for 20 years.”
Ulman saw the broad influence on Hawaiian food and wanted to put his own spin on it — “Californiawian” or “Hawaiiafornian,” the San Luis Obispo native joked.
“We wanted to provide the full gambit of food,” Ulman said of a menu that includes a variety of vegetarian and vegan-friendly items as well as meat dishes.
“We didn’t want to be your typical juice bar vegetarian place,” he said describing vegetarian options like tempeh chili. “There was nothing like us in the beginning.”
Since their opening, Ulman said he’s pleased to see the South Shore’s restaurant options continuing to grow.
In addition to a diverse menu and a popular variety of fish tacos, Ulman credited his staff and strong local support for the restaurant’s success.
“We had a built-in clientele from the start,” he said, explaining that the pair brought name recognition with their years in the industry locally.
While the two owners now call the island of Maui their full-time home, the Ulmans had been nearly continuous Lake Tahoe residents since the mid-80s.
The restaurant will celebrate its 15th anniversary with throwback menu items Monday, Dec. 7, to Saturday, Dec. 19. On the official anniversary of their opening, Dec. 15, they will also feature throwback prices.
For Ulman and the rest of his staff, the restaurant’s 15th anniversary comes at a difficult time. One of Ulman’s first hires and a restaurant favorite, Mikey Sheehan, passed away last month following injuries suffered in a Nov. 14 single-vehicle accident on Highway 89 in Truckee.
“It won’t be the same without Mikey,” Ulman said, “It’s such a loss. He was such a great guy.”
“I’m still waiting for him to come in,” said Julio Loera, a Freshies cook of 12 years. “He was a happy guy.”
Employees described Sheehan as a huge part of their staff.
“He was like an owner without being an owner,” Ulman said, describing Sheehan’s hard work, presence and positive attitude.
“It’s like we lost a member of our family, “ Humes said. “We’re going to miss his sense of humor.”
There will be a celebration of life to honor Sheehan Friday, Dec. 11, at the Lakeview Loft above Dart Beverage in Stateline. Services will be for close friends and family from 4-7 p.m. and open to the public starting at 7 p.m.