Food & Drink

Can you name Charlotte’s 10 oldest restaurants? (Bonus: Here’s what to order at No. 1)

By Kathleen Purvis

kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com

September 27, 2017 8:29 AM

In Charlotte’s red-hot restaurant market, it seems like a new place opens every 15 minutes. And unfortunately, some of them don’t last much longer than that. Restaurant success is as elusive as cheap rent in South End.

Still, some restaurants do manage to survive, not just for years, but for decades. Looking at the list of Charlotte’s 10 oldest restaurants, this is a city that loves simple food: Hot dogs, barbecue, fried chicken. If you want to be around for generations, stick with the basics.

The other thing that’s clear: It helps to be Greek. When you look at the histories of the oldest restaurants, many of them have ties to Charlotte’s longtime Greek community.

To decide what qualifies as the oldest, we considered original locations or the original owners or their descendants. We had to declare one tie, because two restaurants both opened in the winter of 1969. We’re giving an asterisk to the Beef & Bottle: While the late George Fine started the House of Steaks uptown in 1958, the name was changed when the restaurant relocated to its current location on South Boulevard in 1978. And Providence Road Sundries, 1522 Providence Road, was built as a drugstore in the early 1930s. Accounts vary on when food was added.

If we missed a place that you think should be on this list, email me at kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com. And I’d also love to know which vanished restaurant you miss the most.

10 (tie). Gus’ Sir Beef: 1969.

The late Gus Bacogeorge was a partner in Johnny’s Drive-In Grill, a little restaurant on Monroe Road, when it burned in 1967. He crossed the street and opened his own place, featuring country-style cooking using vegetables from his own farm in Matthews (go ahead and say it, if you know its locally famous catchphrase: “Fresh My Farm.”) Bacogeorge’s son Thrace still runs it, and the fried squash is still sublime. 4101 Monroe Road, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.

10 (tie). Philadelphia Deli: 1969.

Pavlos Drosinis originally opened his small restaurant as Kings, but when his youngest son, Demetri, was born in 1981, he celebrated by changing the name to Philadelphia, for the Greek words for “brotherly love.” Demetri, his brother Dino and their mother, Alice, now run it; Drosinis died last year. 1025 S. Kings Drive, 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Mr. K’s started as a little ice cream stand called Zesto’s before adding a building at the same location.
RICHARD M. BROOKS Observer files

9. Mr. K’s: 1967.

Founding owner Theodore Karres came to Charlotte in 1966 and bought a small ice cream stand named Zesto’s, which was where the sign now stands. Karres built a larger building in 1971, adding burgers to the lineup of ice cream and shakes. Today, it’s owned by George Dizes and his wife, Pamela, Theodore Karres’ daughter. 2107 South Blvd., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Steve Spoon now runs barbecue restaurant started by his grandfather, Bill Spoon.
JASON E. MICZEK Observer files

Bill Spoon’s has been on South Boulevard since it was still a two-lane called Pineville Road. Spoon died in 2007 and his grandson, Steve Spoon Jr., runs it today. The style is solidly Eastern N.C.: Whole hogs, cooked slowly, chopped finely and dressed with vinegar-based sauce. 5524 South Blvd., 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Price’s Chicken Coop has been filling takeout boxes since 1962.
GARY O'BRIEN Observer files

Talmadge and Pat Price followed their father into the poultry business, delivering fresh chicken as the Dilworth Poultry Co. when someone suggested they start cooking chicken, too. Today, Talmadge Price’s son Steven and his cousin Drew still run the take-out restaurant, where the sound of the fryers never stops. 1614 Camden Road, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday.

The Bar-B-Q King is a classic of mid-century roadside architecture.
TODD SUMLIN Observer files

6. Bar-B-Q King: 1959.

A classic of mid-century “roadside architecture” (Guy Fieri of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” is a fan). It was opened by Charlie Psomadaski and Jack Law and sold in 1972 to Pete Giannikas. It’s now owned by his brother, Steve Giannikas, and George and Gus Karapanos. While a report for the Historic Landmarks Commission gives the date it was built as 1961, Gus Karapanos says they all believe it was 1959. 2900 Wilkinson Blvd., 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday.

5. South 21 Drive-In: 1954 and 1959.

The original, opened on South Boulevard in 1954, is gone, but the Independence Boulevard location has been open since 1959. (A much newer location in Matthews has a different owner.) Founded by brothers Sam, George and Nick Copsis, the current owner is George Housiadis, whose wife, Maria, was the daughter of Nick Copsis. 3101 E. Independence Blvd., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday.

Every inch of the Open Kitchen has been covered with memorabilia after 65 years.
TODD SUMLIN Observer files

4. The Open Kitchen: 1952.

Constantine “Gus” Kokenes and his wife, Vasiliki, came from Greece early in the 20th century and opened a small diner, the Star Lunch. Their sons, Speros and Steve, started the Open Kitchen as a small curb-service and counter place. It’s still owned by Steve’s children, daughter Christina Skiouris and her brothers Alex and Dean. 1318 W. Morehead St., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 4-10 p.m. Saturday, 4-9 p.m. Sunday.

The Greystone in the mid-1990s, before the original building was replaced with a small shopping center.
MICHAEL CHRITON Observer files

3. The Greystone: 1947.

It’s on the same spot, but the building is new. Founder Tom Kanos came from Greece in 1941 and opened a small pub, called Tommy’s Tap by locals, in the back of an old Kerr Drugs at South Boulevard and Greystone Road. Kanos’ son-in-law, Andy Koutsokalis, took over in 1976, and now his son, Tommy Koutsokalis, runs it. The original building was torn down when the family built a small shopping center. Every generation has put a mark on it, Koutsokalis says: That’s why there are three different signs (Greystone Restaurant, Greystone Pub and Greystone Bar & Grill). 3039 South Blvd., 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

2. The Diamond: 1945.

The James family built the Diamond Soda Grill in 1945 and sold it to Jerry Pistolis in 1982. While the building is the same, a team that included current owners Andy Kastanas (of Soul Gastrolounge) and John Fuller took it over in 2010 and gave the inside and the menu a spiffing up, with a retro-modern style. 1901 Commonwealth Ave., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-4 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

The neon signs still glow over the counter at Green’s Lunch.
Kathleen Purvis

1. Green’s Lunch: 1926.

What would founder Robert Green think about the signs inside for “Free Wi-Fi” and social media links? In 1926, the only wireless was a radio, and social links were golf games. Green opened his hot dog stand in an existing diner near 4th and Mint streets and his wife sold it to Philip Katopodis in 1945. Katopodis’ daughter, Joanna Sikoitis, runs it today, still serving people who dash over from the federal courthouse for a dog all the way (ketchup, mustard, onions, slaw and spicy brown chili). Pro tip: Onion rings are fried by the order, so they’re always hot. 309 W. 4th St., 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday.

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis

Which restaurant do you miss the most?

Even though a lot of Charlotte classics are still around, we’ve also lost some great ones. Which Charlotte restaurant do you miss the most? Send us an email at kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com to tell us about it (or them).

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