When you walk into Charlie’s, Louie’s or the MP Kitchen, you’ll read pretty much the same menu, hear a slight Greek accent when the owners speak, and feel the same kind of family atmosphere.
Anastosios Doulas and Elias Politis were both born in Greece, and Kyriacos Philippou was born in Cyprus but in the Greek speaking part of the island, so his first language is also Greek. The three not only grew up speaking the language of Homer, Plato and Socrates, their stories of how they got from the Mediterranean Sea to the shores of Lake Michigan also have a great deal in common.
IMMIGRANTS. All three came to the U.S. in search of the economic opportunity they were not finding at home. Doulas and Politis had relatives already here so that made the visa application and initial transition a bit easier.
Phillippou’s journey had more twists and turns. As a teenager, “Charlie” was a budding soccer player in Cyprus until he broke his foot which ended his path to stardom in his own country and perhaps on the international level.
But when Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, Charlie decided that his bad luck injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because he was exempt from the draft. The economy in Cyprus suffered because of the war, so he went to Athens looking for work for the short run while in the long run having the goal of someday getting to America.
Turned down for a visa at the U.S. embassy in Athens, he got a job on an ocean tanker, assuming that at some point he’d land in America. Sure enough, at the age of 25 he landed in San Francisco, said “antio sas” to the ship, used $104 of his $200 pay to buy a train ticket and headed east to Chicago where he had relatives with whom he could stay.
That’s where the paths of the three then young immigrants merged. All three began working as dishwashers and busboys in Chicago restaurants as they learned English, saved their money and learned the restaurant business from the bottom up.
RESTAURATEURS. Anastosios and his brother Vasilios were partners in the restaurant business for almost 40 years until Vasilios died of COVID a year ago. They opened their first restaurant at the corner of Archer and Narraganset in Chicago. They then moved to a Hickory Hills location and have occupied their present space at 7525 Madison since 2013.
Philippou and Politis followed the same entrepreneurial path. Philippou opened the Cosmos Restaurant on Roosevelt Road back in 1981 and after that building burned down, he opened Charlie’s at 7427 Roosevelt Rd. in 1998. Politis took over what had been Pete’s Grill for 33 years in 1999.
FAMILY RUN. Anastosios’ daughter Marigo and son Nick are co-owners of MP Kitchen with him now, but he comes in almost every day. Marigo said she and her brother tried to get him to retire but he would have none it.
Maria Philippou covers Charlie’s whole dining room virtually by herself as the only server, but Charlie is there most every day. The same is true at Louie’s.
Ellen, Louie’s wife, said he opens up in the morning and supervises the cooking in the kitchen, while she is up front, closes at the end of the day and handles the money. She laughed and said that she was a certified CPA and had worked for some international corporations, but years back she came to “help out” with the money for just a while, and “Louie wouldn’t let me go!”
Charlie’s and Louie’s are open 365 days a year. MP Kitchen will close on major holidays but is otherwise open seven days a week. All three open early in the morning and close mid-afternoon.
FAMILY ORIENTED. If you know in advance that the owners are all Greek and expect to find an all Greek menu, you’ll be disappointed. Marigo said, “We have to offer what people want. They come first. Our 10 employees know that.”
Menus at all three places are basically the same — eggs served many ways, French toast, waffles, pancakes and skillets for breakfast; burgers, melts, salads, soups and wraps for lunch. Each diner, in addition, adds some unique twists of their own to the basics.
Each place promotes itself as affordable. It won’t break the family budget to eat out, even though the three diners have had to raise prices since COVID began.
GREEK ORTHODOX. True to their roots the Politis, Doulas, and Philippou families all go to the Greek Orthodox Church in their area.
Marigo Doulas described a typical Holy Week which for Greek Orthodox falls a week later on the calendar than does Holy Week in the Western Church, with the Orthodox Easter this year falling on April 16.
She said that on Friday evening her church does what amounts to a funeral procession for Jesus, with parishioners carrying an Epitaphios (bier of Christ) in the procession. On the eve of Easter, congregants gather in church and stand for the liturgy which culminates at midnight with everyone shouting, “Christ is risen!”
Then, everyone goes home and, after getting some sleep, the whole family gets together, puts at least one lamb on the spit and enjoys a feast of Greek food. She said that nowadays “only” 30 gather in the Doulas backyard, whereas in the days when she was growing up there might be 100.
The Philippous report pretty much the same thing while Politis family now goes out to eat, on sort of a busman’s holiday.
GREEK OR AMERICAN? When asked how she identifies in terms of her nationality, Marigo said she is American first and Greek second. Her father put it this way: “When I go back to Cyprus everything has changed. People there don’t know me and I don’t recognize them.”
When teasing her father, as she often does, Maria refers to him as Charles. Kyriacos Philippou, after all, has lived in the U.S. four times as long as he lived in Cyprus. Maybe his daughter sees his evolution of identity more clearly than he does.
LONG COMMUTE. Charlie lives in Western Springs; the Doulas patriarch lives in Palos Heights; and Louie and Ellen live in Lincolnwood, which means an hour commute for all three.