Evan’s American Gourmet Cafe celebrates 30 years in South Lake Tahoe
Sitting in an empty dining room surrounded by white tablecloth-clad tables, Evan Williams flips through notes left by faithful patrons.
Many of them convey appreciation for the food, the service, the memories — and nearly all of them include a note expressing excitement about the next visit, regardless if it comes in a matter of months or a year.
“That’s what sets us apart … our attention to detail and doing it the right way,” Williams said of Evan’s American Gourmet Cafe, the restaurant he and his wife Candice founded in 1988.
“There’s no compromise on detail. We just can’t do it. We won’t do it. And that’s why we’ve kept customers for 30-plus years.”
This past August marked the 30th anniversary for the fine dining establishment housed in … a house. Sitting right off Emerald Bay Road, Evan’s, for the uninitiated, looks just like a home. Inside that home, however, is one of the region’s most recognized restaurants.
Its longevity in an industry notorious for its slim survival rate is a testament to Evan’s quality.
“It’s funny, we’ve had generations come through now where they brought their kids in when they were young and now their kids are grown,” Williams mused.
The restaurant’s roots date back to 1978, when Williams arrived on South Shore. He intended to take a winter off from college so that he could ski. He never left.
“I said ‘well, I’ll just hang out here and ski the winter and have some fun and then I’ll go back to school.’ Well, like so many people, that didn’t work out because I liked skiing too much,” he said.
He got a job at a small French restaurant named Chez Villaret. He served as the maître d and eventually managed the restaurant.
When it became available 10 years later, the couple jumped at the opportunity to purchase the place and establish their own restaurant.
With his years of working at Chez Villaret, Candice suggested they call the restaurant Evan’s.
“I think she probably regrets it to this day,” Williams said with a laugh.
Rather than stick with the French theme, the Williams opted for flexibility.
“We wanted to do pretty much freestyle, anything from pan-Asian to regional American to European to Latin American … so that opens up the door. And America being the great melting pot we said ‘we’ll call it creative American cuisine.’”
While the menu ebbs and flows with time and staff changes in the back of the house, the core concepts have largely remained the same.
A sampling of entrées currently on the menu includes a rosemary and garlic marinated rack of lamb, pan roasted breast and confit leg of duck, and pan seared day boat scallops, among others.
On the dessert menu, the dark chocolate raspberry creme brulee tart is Williams’ personal favorite.
In reflecting on more than 30 years of business, there isn’t a particular memory that stands out, which Williams said is probably a good thing. If there was, it most likely would have been due to a disaster or some other negative occurrence.
Williams attributes the lack of memorable mistakes to the employees he has had over the years.
“Obviously the restaurant business is a team game, so you have to build the best team you can,” he said. “And we’ve been very blessed to have a great team.”