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Opa! Santa Lucia celebrates 25 years in business

Arlo Mittlieder has been a regular diner at Santa Lucia for over 20 years. In addition to the soups, breads and stuffed green peppers he loves, the retired teacher from Page, N.D., said it's also the atmosphere and the staff that keep him coming ...

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Santa Lucia, owned by Maria Wilson, is celebrating 25 years in business. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Arlo Mittlieder has been a regular diner at Santa Lucia for over 20 years. In addition to the soups, breads and stuffed green peppers he loves, the retired teacher from Page, N.D., said it’s also the atmosphere and the staff that keep him coming back.
“The personnel are pleasant and friendly. They aren’t grouchy. Some places, you go in and they don’t even seem to want to wait on you,” Mittlieder said.
Co-owner Maria Wilson said good staff and low turnover have been key to the success of the local Greek and Italian restaurant now celebrating 25 years in business.
Wilson’s father and uncles opened the first Santa Lucia in Thompson, Man., in 1970. They immigrated to Canada from Greece in 1963 and worked for years in the area’s Inco nickel mines to fund their dream of opening a restaurant.
In 1974, the family moved to Winnipeg and opened the first of several additional Santa Lucia restaurants there.

‘It’s all Greek to me’

Growing up in Winnipeg, Wilson said she was always drawn to life in the U.S. As soon as she got her driver’s license, the 16-year-old loaded her brothers in the car for a day trip to Grand Forks.
Her parents were furious about the unsanctioned trip, but they soon accepted that their daughter would likely one day move to the States.
That day came in 1990 when Wilson, her husband, Geoff Wilson, and brother, Alex Simeonidis, opened a Santa Lucia here in the location now home to Wendy’s along 13th Avenue South.
While Santa Lucia was known for pizza in Canada, Wilson w anted the Fargo restaurant to focus more on Greek cuisine.
“We saw a lot of pizza places here, and I wanted to be different,” she said. “I wanted to push Greek because there were no Greek restaurants here. I know Greek. We grew up with Greek, so it just felt right.”
While her husband and brother hit the road selling Santa Lucia fare at festivals, Wilson settled in here to teach diners about Greek cuisine.
“There’s a reason they say, ‘That’s Greek to me.’ Nobody knew what it was. We hit it off well with Italian, but Greek took a bit of time,” Wilson said. “People would come in and order fettuccini, and I’d suggest trying the Greek-style pasta with olive oil and feta cheese.”
After a year, Wilson moved Santa Lucia to a smaller location in the West Park Auto Plaza. The restaurant moved to its current location near the Holiday Inn in 2007.
Thanks to the widely publicized health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, Wilson said Greek cuisine is more popular today than ever.
She explained that Greek cooking uses extra virgin olive oil rather than butter and grilled rather than deep-fried chicken and fish. The diet is also rich in fresh vegetables.

Good times, bad times

After 25 years, Wilson has now lived in the U.S. longer than her native Canada.
“There have been a lot of good times and bad times, but Fargo has become like family,” Wilson said.
In 2012, the Wilsons’ daughter, Eleni, died suddenly at age 17 from a brain aneurysm. Wilson said people continue to offer condolences.
She said she deals with her grief by helping others.
“Do as much good as you can. Volunteer. There are people who need help. Help them if you can because that’s all that’s left when we leave this planet,” Wilson said. “Nobody goes, ‘She looked so beautiful.’ No. What he or she did is all that’s left, and I think that’s getting forgotten today.”
Wilson said she is also looking forward to some exciting changes at Santa Lucia.
Within the next two months, the former banquet room will be converted to a wine bar. Because Santa Lucia is located near several hotels, Wilson said she often heard travelers say they would prefer to sit alone to eat at the bar instead of at a table in the dining room.
Wilson also plans to roll out promotions in celebration of Santa Lucia’s 25th anniversary. The restaurant is currently offering a $10 bottle of wine special on Tuesday nights.

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BUSINESS PROFILE
What: Santa Lucia
Where: 1109 38th St. S., Fargo
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Contact: (701) 281-8656
Online: http://santaluciainc.com

 

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A variety of desserts are on the menu at Santa Lucia restaurant. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Related Topics: RESTAURANTS AND BARS
Angie Wieck is the business editor for The Forum. Email her at awieck@forumcomm.com
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