I know I killed this blog with my last post, and I’ve been very good about staying away and focusing on my other projects. But I need to use this platform for one last post, sadly another goodbye. This time to my favourite restaurant in the world, The Continental Greek Restaurant and Pastry Shop in Seattle’s University District. After 40 years of the friendliest, most heart-warming service to the community, the Lagos family who own and run it are taking a much-deserved rest. For an excellent article on the history of the restaurant, please see Eric Lacitis’s piece in the Seattle Times. My purpose today is simply to tell you what The Continental meant to me.
Our mom first took us there, in the late 1970s/early 1980s, after a visit to the orthodontist whose office was slightly farther down ‘The Ave’. He’d tighten our braces and then we’d rush up to The Continental to eat a souvlaki sandwich before our teeth started to hurt. And so it went, for years. We eventually lost the braces but kept coming to The Continental for ‘our usual’ (in my case this was a cup of avgolemono soup followed by a souvlaki sandwich with Greek fries and then topped off with a cappuccino).
Every time we stepped foot in the door we were greeted effusively by one or more of the Lagoses, and usually treated to a free something or other, be it baklava, a mammoth meringue or, if it was Thursday, George’s famous galaktobouriko. During my 5 years at the University of Washington I spent a lot of time there, usually pretending to study but actually flirting with the handsome Greek waiters. In fact I never got to know many of the other eateries in the U-District because the Greek restaurant was always my knee-jerk default whenever anyone suggested eating out. And I have never regretted it.
When I moved abroad I made a pilgrimage to The Continental a part of every visit home, without fail. On particularly short visits I’d often call all my friends and say, “Sorry I don’t have time to see you all individually, but I’ll be at The Continental from such-and-such a time – come say hi” and we’d occupy a long table for the evening as The Continental became an extension of our home. Many of those friends continued to visit the restaurant even when I wasn’t there and became regulars themselves. And now they bring their friends, and their children.
When you walk in the door, you are faced with the option of turning left, to sit in the restaurant area, or right, to sit in the cafe, where the regulars gather. On the right there are a couple of tables unofficially reserved for family and close friends – I never presumed to sit there, always keeping a slight yet respectful distance. But for some reason last summer, on what was to be my last visit, I accepted Demetre’s invitation to sit at the family table with my two kids. He sat with us and kept the children happy with crayons, while his dad, George, quizzed them about geography and the flags of the world. I ask you – in how many restaurants will the owners sit and colour in pictures with your small children?
On that occasion I took a few photos, as I intended to write a review of the restaurant for Honest Cooking’s ‘Places We Love’. But life threw me a few curveballs this past year and so, before I got around to writing the piece, it was too late. So I’m posting them here, for posterity, as a reminder of a place in the world that meant as much to me as a member of my extended family, however silly that may sound.
Do you remember the theme song from ‘Cheers’? ‘Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came…’ That was The Continental, not just for me and my family for but for literally thousands of fellow regulars throughout the years. Because the secret to their success, I’ve come to realise (and a lesson to restaurateurs everywhere), is they treated EVERYONE like regulars. We were all ‘family’ to them, as they came to be for us. How I wish I could go in one last time to say goodbye, but I’m stuck in England until the end of July – one cursed month too late. The restaurant will close its doors tomorrow (Sunday, 30th of June 2013). If you’re in town I urge you to do what I can’t – pop in to 4549 University Way and say a quick hello and goodbye.
I wish the Lagos family a healthy and well-deserved retirement and hope they can finally enjoy the fruits of their many years of hard work. They thought they were just running a restaurant, but in fact they were carving out an unforgettable piece of U-District history and a very special place in our hearts. Afkaresto!
Postscript: The doors are now closed, the lights off, the pastry case empty. One of the most regular of regulars, Ziyad ‘Olives’, took the following photo and has generously allowed me to post it here. It is of the regulars’ table, or the bums’ table as they liked to call it. So quiet now, so poignant.