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Mario Chiocca speaks with customers from behind the counter at Chiocca’s in 1954. Photos courtesy of Scott Ripley
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Mario’s wife, Peggy, stands with a customer. In the background at left is the sandwich oven that is still used today.
Restaurants come and go, but some seem to hang on forever. They might change hands or get a makeover, but the old ghosts still linger amid the new customers. Here is the history behind some of Richmond's enduring dining establishments.
Becky's Breakfast & Lunch
100 E. Cary St. 643-9736
Tommy and Becky Lambrinides originally owned downtown breakfast-and-lunch spot Becky's from 1957 to 1989. Becky Lambrinides was born and raised in the house directly behind the restaurant, and according to former owner Wade Thomas (1993 to 1999), "Her folks were Greek immigrants. Her family bought the building at 100 E. Cary St., and different family members ran the restaurant until Tommy and Becky married and took it over in 1957. They told me that for several years the place didn't even have a name — it was just the restaurant at "First and Cary." Becky's offers breakfast, including fluffy biscuits, plus standard sandwiches such as the Reuben and pork barbecue, and traditional Southern standards like chicken-fried steak and roasted chicken with gravy. Today, despite changing owners (the present owner is Bonita Tuner) and a changing interior, the exterior and — more important — the food remains the same.
425 N. Belmont St. 355-3228
Hold tight. The Chiocca family liked their name a lot, and they liked opening restaurants and naming them after themselves even more. The very first Chiocca's (actually named Chiocca and Sons) was located at 327 E. Franklin St. and was owned by Pietro Chiocca and his family from 1937 to 1961. In 1947, his son Joe opened his own Chiocca's in Carytown, across the street from the Byrd Theatre (Bonvenu Restaurant is now there). That restaurant closed in 1970, after Joe's death. Joe's brother Frank opened Chiocca's Park Avenue Inn at the corner of Park Avenue and Meadow Street in 1964, and it remained there until 2004 (the building now houses Garnett's Café).
Meanwhile, back in 1952, Joe and Frank's brother Mario opened his own location on Belmont Street (currently known as Chiocca's Downstairs Deli & Bar), and his two children, Tim and Maria, continued to operate the restaurant until they sold it to Scott Ripley in 2010. The last restaurant to bear the Chiocca name still makes the sandwiches beloved by generations of students at nearby Benedictine High School like the Beast Feast — roast beef, pastrami, Swiss, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onions and Italian dressing — and offers music on the weekends.
205 N. Shields Ave. 355-2282
Joe Mencarini opened the venerable Joe's Inn in 1952 on Shields Avenue, and it became the archetypical Fan restaurant — fiercely loyal customers, long-term wait staff, lots of booths down a narrow aisle and a menu featuring everything from pancakes to a pastrami-and-Swiss. Groups have met to play weekly board games for a decade or more in its booths, and generations of Richmonders conducted their romantic lives over a split order of Spaghetti á la Joe.
Manager Tina Kafantaris' father, Nick, bought the restaurant in 1977 (her brother Michael is the current owner). Developer Charlie Diradour's father owned The Fan Grill next door, and in 1980, the Kafantarises leased the space and expanded the restaurant. In the mid-1980s, an interior upgrade of the original space created controversy, but 25 years later, that's been all but forgotten. In 2008, Charlie Diradour sold the original Fan Grill building to Michael Kafantaris. Today, the beer list may have expanded exponentially, but the menu remains the same, and another generation of Richmonders is enjoying its eponymous spaghetti, just like their parents did.
Perly's Restaurant & Deli
111 E. Grace St. 649-2779
Perly's looks older (but not shabbier) now than it did when Harry and Mary Perlstein opened the place in 1961. From that year until 1997, with its Naugahyde seats and wood paneling, Perly's resembled a typical New York deli. Then came the fire that gutted the building.
Owner Gray Wyatt had no choice but to start from scratch, so he re-imagined his restaurant as a pre-World War II diner, in keeping with its art deco exterior (the structure was built in 1930). "The opportunity was there to merge the interior and exterior. Between the architect and Daniella [his then-wife], I think we really succeeded," Wyatt says. "Going forward, we wanted people to come through the door and step back in time — and eat food the way it's supposed to be." Vintage lamps, artwork and tchotchkes abound, and loyal customers found that their favorite breakfast and lunch spot had been miraculously transformed into something even more endearing, rather than less so. "We reopened in 1998, almost a year to the day. The fire happened at lunch the year before and when we evacuated, one customer grabbed her check. The very first day we opened back up, she took it out and paid it."
2601 Park Ave. 353-0298
Manuel Loupassi, father of current owner Niki Loupassi and Del. Manoli Loupassi, bought the Robin Inn in 1964. "The majority of the houses in the Fan were rooming houses, with construction workers — they lived a rough kind of lifestyle," Manuel Loupassi says. "In the early '70s, people with families began to move back — they bought the houses for barely nothing and renovated them. I was really glad to be involved with the renaissance of the Fan."
His daughter Niki was 11 when she started busing tables, was a waitress at 13, began working full time at 16 and took over the business when she was 30. "I can cook all of the food, and I can do anything in this restaurant — anything that goes wrong in the kitchen, I can go right back there and jump in again," she says. Almost all of her business is repeat customers: "I've grown up seeing babies in baby carriers who then come in with their own babies."
The Village Café
1001 W. Grace St. 353-8204
First things first: There's the Old Village and the New Village. Not that the two are all that different — both offer/ed a home to students, professors, artists, musicians and the occasional bum with enough change to buy a draft beer.
The Old Village occupied the building at 939 W. Grace St., and began as the Village Restaurant in 1956 under the proprietorship of Theodore Janetos. A year later, Janetos sold it to Stavros Dikos and James Sotos. You may recognize Stavros' wife's name — she's Stella Dikos of the former Stella's located on Main Street (and still one of the best cooks in town). Daughter Katrina grew up to marry Johnny Giavos, and the two of them began a restaurant empire that includes the Sidewalk Café, Kitchen 64 and 3 Monkeys.
In 1981, the Dikoses sold the Village to Mike and Don Fleck, who made a slight change to the name — from Restaurant to Café — and some interior improvements but avoided other major changes that might have discouraged the regulars. After a dispute with the building's landlord in 1992, Mike Fleck moved the restaurant across the street to 1001 W. Grace St. (the New Village). The customers moved with him, and in 2005, Fleck sold the Village to current owners Herb and Bev Rueger. Harry Kollatz Jr., author of the now out-of-print The Village: A History and Richmond magazine senior writer, says, "What I think makes the Village so special is its inextricable and important connection to Richmond's counterculture and creative life."