One of the oldest restaurants in the University District is closing its doors on Sunday. The Continental Greek Restaurant and Pastry Shop has been a fixture on “The Ave” since 1967. It’s a family business. As news of the closure spread, 40 years’ worth of regular customers have been filling the sky blue dining tables, eating their favorite dishes one last time.
The news of the closing has upset loyal customers who have pled with the owners to remain open. Losing the Continental is like losing their living room or even worse, their grandparents.
Owner Helen Lagos offers a customer a bowl of soup and pita bread. She has greeted Continental customers for 40 years, alongside her husband, George, the head chef. Her oldest son, Demetre, manages the restaurant. Demetre says they didn’t have a long term plan when his family bought out the original owners of the Continental in 1976.
“Helen and George, they said, ‘OK we can try this out for a couple of years or so and then we’ll see.’ That was 37 years ago for me. I think it went OK,” said Demetre.
The University District of today is very different than it was in the late '70s. That’s when the Lagos family became business owners.
“The U District was probably one of the nicest places in Seattle at that time,” recalled Demetre. “The best stores around for clothing, for shoes. Thursday night was a late shopping night in the district. The sidewalks were crowded until 10:00 at night. It was a good start for us.”
As Seattle grew, the rents in the University District rose, and retailers moved out. “We lost Miller Pollard. We lost jewelry shops. We lost small retailers,” said Demetre.
But the Continental survived by adapting. They made changes, even when those changes required careful negotiations between Demetre and his parents. Take coffee for example.
“Times were changing and you had to do espresso. This is Seattle, it’s a great thing. They said, ‘eh, we’ve got the Greek coffee, we don’t need anymore, you know, that’s enough.’ So you work with that. You almost have to become a diplomat,” Demetre said.
Seattle was reeling from the Boeing bust when the Lagos family bought into the Continental. Since then they’ve survived many economic ups and downs, but this past recession was tough.
“In all our years here, this was the hardest downturn we’ve noticed. We certainly had to cut back on unnecessary expenses and try to survive,” said Demetre. “The economy seems to be taking an upturn. I think its bottomed-out now. And I hope it comes back again.”
With the economy slowly coming back, the question many regular customers asks is why close now?
“Well, I didn’t want to leave on a down note. I like to leave when things are looking up,” said Demetre. "And more than anything, this is a family decision. The grown kids are finished with school and there are grandkids now, and great-grandkids.
“It’s a tough decision. When is enough, enough? It’s not that I don’t want to be here, it’s just that it’s more important to be somewhere else. It was time,” said Demetre.
The family negotiated and they all agree, it’s time to be with family, outside of the workplace.
The Continental’s last day of business is Sunday, June 30.