After a brief scare, downtown Meridian’s beloved Basque restaurant will remain open for business.
Epi’s Basque Restaurant, known for its authentic Basque food and warm atmosphere, is staying within the family. Erik McFarland, longtime cook at the restaurant, is taking over ownership from Chris Ansotegui, who co-founded the restaurant over 20 years ago. Earlier this summer, Ansotegui announced she was retiring in late July to the dismay of the restaurant’s regulars who feared her retirement meant the end of Epi’s.
There is no need to worry, McFarland said — the restaurant is going to stay the same.
After a short break starting July 30, the restaurant will reopen Aug. 6 with the same hours and the majority of its same 18 staff members. The restaurant will keep its three well-known cooks and McFarland, who are responsible for the Epi’s authentic Basque dishes, Ansotegui said.
“It’s not just a restaurant,” McFarland said. “We’ve got something so unique there, and there are so many memories there for customers and employees. … It’s something we want to continue.”
McFarland has worked as a cook at Epi’s for 16 years while holding other full-time positions. The extra hours and long nights were worth it, he said, because of the growth he experienced as an employee and the feeling the restaurant gives him.
“It’s like going somewhere familiar to your heart, and you just don’t want to mess with that,” he said.
McFarland is the great grandson of Epifania “Epi” Lamiquis-Inchausti, the namesake of the Meridian restaurant. Lamiquis-Inchausti got on a boat with her young daughter and left the Basque region on the coast of Spain for the United States to reunite with her husband in 1929. The only word she knew in English was “coffee,” Ansotegui previously told the Meridian Press.
Epi’s courage and hospitality left deep impressions on her growing family as they settled in Idaho — particularly two granddaughters, Ansotegui and her sister, Gina Urquidi, who opened Epi’s Basque Restaurant in 1999.
McFarland started working at the restaurant three months after it opened, doing every job from busing tables to prep work until he finally became a cook. The restaurant’s focus is reminiscent of McFarland’s upbringing.
“Being Basque is enjoying each other’s company and eating food,” he said. “That’s what we’ve done with Epi’s. I remember that being a kid gathering together as a family and celebrating each other.”
The restaurant’s 20 years of service have been largely due to Epi’s staff sharing its vision, Ansotegui said.
“We can’t do anything without each other,” Ansotegui said. “I always say you can’t open the doors of a restaurant unless you have nine people that have all been committed to that vision every day.”
Though Ansotegui had no experience running a restaurant — she had worked in a police forensics lab and at Micron Technology, Inc. — Ansotegui was inspired in her 40s to give it a shot. Twenty years later, Ansotegui said she’s happy to hand the reins over to McFarland.
“When people say, ‘What are you going to do?’ I’m like ‘Well, I’m going to work today and I’m going to work tomorrow and I’m going to try not to make a mistake,’” she said. “When I’m finished with it on Sunday, I’ll probably look back and cry and laugh.”
“It was my dream, and now it is his dream,” she said.