Παρασκευή, 6 Ιουνίου 2014

Local restaurant institution Gus Chalet closes; ‘Gus Puffs’ served even on last day


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Restauranteur Gus Kanarios, 80 holds a photo of himself at age 21 as he reminisces about his career and Gus' Chalet Restaurant while sitting at the bar of the restaurant. Kanarios quietly closed the restaurant in May after 40 years in business in Akron. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)
Forty years is only midlife in terms of people. It’s an exceptionally long haul for a restaurant.
After four decades, Gus’ Chalet of Akron, a local culinary icon that was a favorite gathering spot for local politicians, closed quietly May 10, the day before Mother’s Day.
“That was the worst day of my life,” said founder and owner Gus Kanarios, 80. Nevertheless, he said, “It was time for me” to close. After all, including his 40 years at Gus’ Chalet, he has 58 years in the local restaurant business, he said.
Gus’ Chalet customers often had a favorite dish among the extensive list of menu items that didn’t change much over the years. Entrees included beef, poultry and pasta dishes, as well as Greek specialities.
Early on, Kanarios, who immigrated from Greece in the 1950s, began giving customers relish trays, featuring a kidney bean salad, and his now-famous complimentary Gus Toast — a cheese toast also called Gus Puffs. He continued that gracious custom on his last day of business.
“The success of the restaurant business is consistency,” he likes to say.
Kanarios earlier this week granted an interview at Gus’ Chalet, at 938 E. Tallmadge Ave., in Akron’s North Hill neighborhood. He sat on a green vinyl bar stool at the long pine bar, recalling how he stopped by tables to make sure his guests were happy. He would take a mental picture of customers and remember them. Many times, he would remember what they liked to eat.
“I’ve met a lot of people here,” said Kanarios, his Greek accent still strong. “I want to thank so much my patrons, my employees, my customers.”
He loved his customers. Kanarios said customers became friends, and his friends — “they made me a success.”
He recalled the restaurant’s 20th anniversary, when he served dishes at discount prices as a thank-you to customers.
“I lost $2,000 that day,” he said, laughing.
Some of the customers on May 10, upon learning it was the place’s last day, cried, Kanarios said.
Many thanks also goes to his family, he said. “They put up with me all these years, me working all the time.” He said his wife, Aliki, and other family members had been urging him to retire, and earlier this year he fell and broke a bone in his right (dominant) hand. In the end, there was no one to take over the business.
Kanarios said that some days he was in the restaurant at 7 a.m. and didn’t leave until 2 a.m. Still, he said, he found time to be involved with the local and state restaurant associations, as well as be an active member of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church of Akron.
Kanarios acknowledged business had slowed. The long winter pinched sales, and he stopped serving lunch earlier this year. But he said, the place still enjoyed some busy weekend nights. And he said more than once, “I paid all my bills.”
Customers, friends
Mike Dies, 37, of Akron, is among many in his age group whose parents took them to Gus’ Chalet. He said his father, Ken Dies, of Dies Electric, was a big fan and held business meetings there.
Mike Dies, who is president of the West Akron Baseball League, recalled not too long ago talking with Kanarios about business.
“Obviously, Gus was concerned about the business, getting younger people in there. I consider Gus as like Nick Anthe’s [an Akron institution that closed in 2011],” said Dies, who works for Rubber World Magazine in Akron. “When you’re not a chain restaurant, it can be tough. It’s not a [TGI] Friday’s or something that’s paying millions of dollars for advertising.”
One friend Kanarios met via the restaurant — some 30 years ago — is Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic.
“Unfortunately, things change in the restaurant business, and now we have one less original family, locally owned place to eat,” said Plusquellic, who routinely went to the restaurant with Akron City Council members after Monday night meetings.
The demise of local places, the mayor said, “is partly because the younger generation flocks to the newest ... national chain restaurant. As a result, we lose quality local original restaurants like Gus’ and Anthe’s.”
Learning the trade
Kanarios learned the restaurant trade from the Anthe brothers, Nick and Charlie. (Nick Anthe died in 2004. His restaurant was owned by a man who had worked there when it closed in 2011. Wise Guys Bar & Grill opened in the North Main Street site last week.)
Kanarios said his son-in-law, Kosta Galatoulas, who had worked with him at Gus’ Chalet for nearly 30 years, didn’t want to carry on the business. Kanarios noted that one of his daughters lives in Greece and the other has a “good job” with a local company. His two sons have careers that have taken them outside Ohio, he said.
Kanarios said he plans to sell the restaurant’s equipment and furnishings, and he would like to help his son-in-law begin a breakfast/lunch place. This way, Kanarios noted, he could keep cook Frank Trpka employed.
Trpka, 58, of Akron, worked at Gus’ for all of its 40 years. He was a teenager when he began working at one of the places Kanarios was a cook before Gus’ Chalet opened in 1974.
Many employees, like ­Trpka, worked at Gus’ for years.
“I was kind of inspired by him cooking, and I said, ‘Well, it seems like a career,’ ” Trpka said.
A few minutes later, the two men were in the kitchen. At one point, Trpka fixed the collar on Kanarios’ suit jacket and began tearing up.
“He has been a good mentor,” Trpka said. “A teacher, father figure.”
Beacon Journal staff writer Stephanie Warsmith contributed to this report. Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.

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