BRIDGMAN — Anastasia and Chris Lepeniotis have been serving their favorite dishes to area residents for 42 years.
That all changed Friday when the Lepeniotises agreed to sell The Olympus to a development company that’s in the process of renovating business fronts along Red Arrow Highway in Bridgman.
In passing the torch, Anastasia Lepeniotis said the new owners intend to keep the menu and the restaurant’s employees the same. The only thing to change – other than the name on the deed – will be the eatery’s hours.
Prior to opening The Olympus in the mid-1970s, the Lepeniotises were adjusting to life outside of their home country.
In Greece, Chris was a meat inspector and Anastasia came from a family of restaurateurs. Eventually they ventured out on their own, arriving in America in 1971.
The couple’s trek to Michigan came by happenstance. Initially they stayed in West Virginia with family, but met a priest stationed in Benton Harbor who spoke highly of Michigan. After being talked into moving, Anastasia landed a job in the New Buffalo school system.
With Anastasia working there, Chris Lepeniotis helped run Babe’s Lounge in Benton Harbor for three years. It was on those drives from New Buffalo to Benton Harbor when Chris noticed the future site of The Olympus.
It didn’t take much discussion before the couple jumped into the restaurant business with both feet.
Anastasia and Chris bought the building at 9735 Red Arrow Highway in December 1975. It was a former restaurant that had been shuttered. The health department had shut down the previous restaurant, which would be the last of several one-and-done restaurants at the location that failed to catch on.
“It was pretty nasty. It took a long time for us to fix up,” she said.
After months of refurbishing and hand-wringing, The Olympus opened in June 1976.
Chris had several family members in America who would occasionally return to Greece.
Anastasia said Chris would always hear about their stories and talk about how he wanted that for their life.
As a child, Anastasia learned several recipes from her parents – who together owned a restaurant in Greece – which she continued to use in her own establishment. She and her husband proceeded to name their restaurant after Mount Olympus – a landmark considered to be the highest mountain in Greece.
The name, Anastasia says, needed to be well-known to Americans and easy to pronounce.
“I’ll admit, some of those Greek names are hard to say,” she said.
Anastasia said the 1980s and ’90s were booming years, as Bridgman did not have many eateries at the time.
“When we first got here, we were discouraged by a lot of people. No one thought we were going to make it,” she said. “The place was changing hands rapidly before we got here. There was a lack of personal work, before us.”
The restaurant has a Greek influence, but the menu features more than just Greek food.
“Yes, we use olive oil, but we like to mix things up,” Anastasia said. “They love our salads. We sell a lot of salads and a lot of walleye. We have people who stop here for walleye, before they go fishing.”
The restaurant soon fulfi lled more than just their dream to become entrepreneurs. It became a way to make new friends and feed their children.
“We (our family) eat everything we serve here,” Anastasia said.
The Olympus has been purchased by MTM Group, which is situated behind the large development next door to the restaurant, at the intersection of Lake Street and Red Arrow Highway.
The development, referred to as the Monogram Centre project, will include residential and extendedstay facilities upstairs in both buildings. Two large retail spots will occupy the ground floor. The renovated buildings are the old Monogram Hotel along Red Arrow Highway, plus the former Dave and Ruth Telephone Building, at the intersection.
Marty Mason, the man behind the development and new owner of The Olympus, said the restaurant will remain the same eatery that longtime customers have become accustomed to.
Chris Lepeniotis plans to keep busy operating a coin shop in Michigan City. Anastasia hopes to enjoy time off to find out what she’s missed by having to run a business.
“We were here from 7 to 9, every day. We took a lot of pride in our business,” Anastasia said. “We missed a lot of games and activities. I don’t want to miss much for my grandchildren.”
In the summer, the restaurant was normally open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., with closing time an hour earlier during winter. However, the restaurant will now close at 3 p.m. and focus on the breakfast and lunch menu. The restaurant will still be closed on Wednesdays
The quality of food and service is not expected to change, Anastasia stressed.
“The girl who is running the kitchen has worked with me for 20-some years,” she said. “... It’s in good hands.”
Anastasia said she’ll miss the customers and the usual routine of work.
However, the sale doesn’t mean customers will see the last of Anastasia.
“I know I’m going to miss it,” she said. “But I’ve been reassured by them that whenever they need me, I’ll be around. I won’t hesitate to come back and help them.”