Artemis a South Shore staple: Owners of two South Shore restaurants get accolades for entrepreneurship
For most people, opening a restaurant in a resort town on the heels of the Great Recession might not have been viewed as a prudent business decision. Add to the equation a location at a nondescript shopping center along Highway 50, and calling it an “uphill battle” might be an understatement.
But in 2010, then soon-to-be Artemis Mediterranean Grill owner, Brian Luke, saw an opportunity.
After a three-month road trip scouting locations in places like Tahoe, the Bay Area and Las Vegas, Luke finally decided on giving it a go on the South Shore.
“It seemed like there wasn’t much going on here at the time,” the longtime chef said of the restaurant scene in the area. “It seemed a little stagnant.”
Seeing a niche to fill, he opted to go for a Greek-influenced Mediterranean-American style, rather than adding another Asian fusion restaurant to an already saturated market.
“There were so many sushi places,” the Hawaii native said of his inspiration not to go in that direction. “There wasn’t a good place to get a gyro in town.”
With a history of businesses coming and going at the location, Luke disregarded those that said the spot was “doomed” and that “everything fails there,” proceeding with the vision.
That same year South Tahoe native Angela Struve, now Angela Luke, left a job in Seattle to return to her hometown. With a down economy, friends told her it was a bad idea.
“A lot of people were warning me about coming back,” she said.
Then she found a job opening at a new Mediterranean restaurant.
“She was my first hire,” Luke said with a smile, during a recent interview at their second location in the Ski Run Marina.
“It was completely different for Tahoe,” Angela said of discovering the new place at the time. “That excited me growing up here.”
After opening in May 2010, it didn’t take long for the new restaurant to take off.
“We got overwhelmed the first day,” Brian said of their opening that was announced largely by word of mouth. The four-employee operation had to expand quickly. “Summer came and it was insane.”
Now nearly six years in, the couple (who married in 2012) continues to see loyal customers and employs around 50 workers between both locations.
Regularly seeing 45-minute waits for tables, Brian and Angela started to think about expanding in 2013. After being approached by Ski Run Marina owner M. Elie Alyeshmerni, they opted to open their Lakefront Cafe in early 2014.
Alyeshmerni wanted a restaurant with the potential to maintain strong local support to fill a vacancy at the marina.
“I took a group of people who work with me to the other Artemis location,” he said of his recruiting effort, not knowing the Lukes were considering expanding. “We ordered different foods. Everything was super. So at that point I gave (Brian) my card and said I have a place for you that I would like you to consider.”
With a location downstairs from his office now, Alyeshmerni is also a regular patron.
“It’s amazing,” he said of their food. “Every one of their recipes is superb.”
The menu includes a variety of locally sourced, healthy dishes including gyros, falafels, lettuce wraps and their acclaimed Artemis fries and dipping sauce.
For their efforts Angela and Brian were recently awarded the Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce Blue Ribbon Award for entrepreneurship, an honor given to a business that shows continued growth and potential as a representative of successful South Shore community.
“It’s reaffirming,” Brian said of the honor. “It’s nice to be appreciated.”
“It’s been a surprise,” Angela said. “It motivates us to continue. Hopefully we can be role models to other people that are thinking about (starting a business).”
Both said they see a potential for the South Shore to become more of a food destination, and they are excited to be a part of the area’s continued revitalization.
“I believe in this town,” Brian said.
As to their future plans, he added, “We’re ready to make the next move. You get hooked. I love projects and I love being an entrepreneur.”
As to what those projects may be, he only said, “I’ve got a bunch of other ideas.”