KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A diner will close the doors of its first and only remaining location in downtown Kalamazoo after 50 years of feeding families and serving smiles.
In 1973, Theo and Stacy Skartsiaris welcomed hungry customers in their new home of Kalamazoo to their family restaurant to have a taste of their native Greece.
“We started Greek night in here every Saturday night. I used to cook it, go around to the tables, we used to say, ‘Specialty is the leg of lamb. Try it. you’ll like it,'” Stacy Skartsiaris said. “Then we just get used to the people liking the Greek food. And of course, it’s home cooking.”
The family business and its recipes eventually grew to as many as four locations throughout the area and cooked meals for Thanksgiving, Kalamazoo’s Greek Fest and even those without a home.
Exactly 50 years later, the final restaurant with its bright blue awning stands on Michigan Avenue. Stacy Skartsiaris, now 77, is still pouring her heart into every dish.
“If the restaurant is open, I cannot stay home. I have to work. I’m here at 6 in the morning to close, because everything — soups, Greek food, gyro sauce, Greek recipes — everything has to be made by me,” she said.
Earlier this month, discussions with her children and grandchildren led to a bittersweet change of heart and eventual announcement.
“‘I want you to come to our games, to come to swim meets.’ I never make it to anything … because my plan for us is to stay here until I die,” Skartsiaris said. “(The family said) we want you to be able to enjoy it, whatever life I have left, and enjoy my grandkids and my family.”
Manager Danielle Miller started as a server eight years ago, before eventually working alongside her own son and daughter. Miller said Stacy Skartsiaris became family to her, with her grandson calling her ‘yaya.’
“She genuinely cares about how we’re doing outside of here,” Miller explained. “She never treated me like I was any less than her or anybody else here. I literally lived in The Mission and was carrying my clothes in a backpack, but she never made me feel I was any less of a person. She said, ‘Everybody, sometimes, has a hard time in their life and they need a little bit of help.’ Stacy and (her daughter) Betty have been my family more than my own biological family has.”
Until they close their doors for the last time, the Skartsiaris family is asking customers to write their fondest memories of the diner in a book.
“My family would take me to Theo & Stacy’s after church growing up, so I was going there on and off my entire life. I always had a lot of respect for it. I always really loved the food. I have a lot of fond memories,” customer Andy Lucas said. “I just respect what this place has done for the community for the last 50 years. I’m really sad to see it go, but I understand that some things come to an end and I just appreciate it for being here when it was.”
“I think it’s just an intimate experience coming here,” customer Hollie Lass added. “We come here, it’s always special, like a spot… Everyone that works here is always wonderful.”
Skartsiaris and her staff say they have been seeing familiar faces for one last visit.
“There’s a family that lives in Indiana and they drove here because they heard about the news. They haven’t lived here in 15 years,” Miller said. “(Skartsiaris) remembered them, remembered what they ordered and remembered where they worked. It’s amazing to me.”
“When (a young man) found out we were closing from Arizona, he flew back,” Skartsiaris added. “Because he used to do his homework every day at the last booth for three to four hours while going to Western (Michigan University).”
Sunday’s farewell will close five storied decades of an extended family feeding hundreds of thousands of others from Greece to the Great Lakes.
“It’s amazing. It’s amazing,” Skartsiaris said. “Thank you so much (to) the people of Kalamazoo. I did not expect it.”
Staff confirmed that Berries Famous Pancake House and More will be the future tenant of the space on Michigan Avenue. Skartsiaris added that its manager is planning to offer gyros, inspired by her. The restaurant is expected to open as soon as mid-February.