DOWNTOWN — Peter’s Grill, the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Minneapolis, closed its doors Saturday after a 99-year-long run.
Owner Peter Atsidakos, the nephew of Peter’s Grill founder Peter Atcas, oversaw the restaurant’s management from 1983 to Saturday. Atsidakos said his homemade-style comfort food could no longer compete with the changing demands of the city.
“Things changed [in] downtown Minneapolis,” Atsidakos said. “It’s not like it used to be. New restaurants came in the market now who serve different kinds of food. Some people, especially young people, are not interested in homemade cooking.”
Atsidakos said a large fleet of food trucks parked along Marquette Avenue just around the corner from the restaurant hurt his lunchtime business and left him with no choice but to close the restaurant down.
“You can get things you’d never believe [from the food trucks],” Atsidakos said. “You bring 14 trucks in front of my restaurant and of course it’s not good for me. It’s not good for any other restaurant. It’s not good for the skyways. But the city has different ideas.”
Pat Fleetham, who regularly ate breakfast at Peter’s and had been coming to the restaurant “on and off” all his life, said the food trucks had an obvious impact on Peter’s Grill.
“I was surprised [to find out it was closing], although you could tell they weren't doing much business,” Fleetham said. “I could tell the food trucks are severely limiting its business, too.”
John Levy, president of the Minneapolis Food Truck Association, said he, too, was a fan of Peter’s Grill. But Levy added that, at the end of the day, consumers will eat where they want.
“Peter’s Grill was an institution, and I used to frequent it as many people did, and so I was very sorry to see that he felt forced to close his doors,” Levy said. “That said, the food trucks have been operating within the dictates of the existing law and ordinance.”
Minneapolis ordinance states that food trucks cannot operate less than 100 feet away from a restaurant. I this case, there was really nothing the Food Truck Association could do, Levy said.
“If it’s in fact the case that the food trucks were a factor, I feel horrible about it,” he said. “I just don’t know what could have been done about it. Part of the point is it’s fair competition.”
Judy Genung, a waitress at Peter’s for 20 years, said she noticed the drop in business when the food trucks came to town. But Genung also said changing generations might have contributed to the lack of business.
“Believe it or not, people don’t know we’re here, and we don’t advertise,” she said. “We’ve been trying to tell (Atsidakos) that for years, and he just says, ‘What do you mean people don’t know about Peter’s Grill?’
“And I said, ‘Well, Peter, they’re all dead,’” she added, laughing.
Founded in 1914 by Atsidakos’ uncle, Peter Atcas, Peter’s Grill relocated three times during its years, in 1991 ending up at the Baker Center on 8th Street, where it remains today.
Atsidakos and his cousin took over the restaurant in August 1983. After a brief period when Peter’s was closed in 2006, Atsidakos bought the restaurant once again and re-opened it. Peter’s Grill maintained many of the original fixtures and décor used in the restaurant in the 1920s.
“Some people call it a museum,” Atsidakos said. “It’s a landmark, for sure.”
Peter’s Grill made its long history obvious. Stools and countertops from the first years of the restaurant sat in the center, while old walnut booths wrapped around the walls. Astidakos used the restaurant’s first refrigerator, a large wooden icebox, as a filing cabinet in his office.
Several original Peter’s Grill signs hung around the restaurant, one of which Astidakos plans to donate to a museum in Minneapolis. Astidakos hung old newspaper clippings and reviews of Peter’s Grill along the walls, as well as an original menu, reminding customers of a time when a slice of Peter’s famous green apple pie was just a few cents.
Reminders of former President Bill Clinton’s visit to Peter’s in April 1995, Atsidakos’ personal favorite memory of the restaurant, were everywhere, from a plaque nailed to the chair Clinton sat on to copies of Clinton’s note to Atsidakos made on every menu: “Dear Peter, Thanks for a great meal!”
“Peter’s Grill was a place for any guy out in the street,” Atsidakos said. “Office guy, low-income guy or the President of the United States. Everybody comes here, and they love Peter’s Grill.”
Despite its history, Peter’s business dropped dramatically in the last few years. Atsidakos said he thought about bringing in TVs to give customers something to watch on their lunch breaks, but eventually decided against it.
“That’s today’s life. It’s not like 1924,” Atsidakos said. “But from there I said, well, I’m 73. I mean, how long can I stay?”
Peter’s Grill’s 99 years in Minneapolis is no small feat, but Atsidakos said there is no real trick to surviving so long.
“I think the secret is we serve good food, quality food, with prices that were normal prices for everybody — that’s the biggest things,” Astidakos said.
Fleetham said it was Peter’s breakfast specials that kept him coming back in the mornings.
Said Fleetham: “They might not have kept up with the times, but it promises good basic food, (and) it’s reasonably priced.”
Atsidakos said recently he had been working with three women who plan to buy the space. The women are planning to use Peter’s space to open another restaurant under a different name.
“I hope if the deal does go through they make it.” Atsidakos said. “It’s going to be some new ideas, a new menu. I think they’re going to close part of the restaurant to business meetings or parties.”
Atsidakos said a trip to his native Greece is in order now that Peter’s is closed, but he said retirement might still be a ways off.
“It’s tough for me,” Atsidakos said. “I wake up [and] I can’t stay home. I used to come downtown, here. That’s my life.
“It’s going to be tough, but we’ll see.”
Atsidakos added he was not completely giving up on the idea of getting back in to the restaurant business.
“I’ve got some ideas in my mind,” Atsidakos said. “But for a short time — six, seven months — I have got to do some things. I’ve got to go to Greece and relax a little bit, and then I’ll see how I feel.”