Karas Family Restaurant Serves Classic American and Greek Diner Fare
The Harper Avenue eatery celebrates 32 years of doing business in St. Clair Shores this month.
Karas Family Restaurant is a family diner in the truest sense of the word.
Owned by Lazaros Karavidas and run predominantly by his family, the eatery has been a St. Clair Shores fixture for nearly 32 years.
The restaurant was started by his late father, John, and uncle, Elias, opening its doors on June 16, 1980.
It’s truly a neighborhood destination. Paying a visit to Kara’s just after it closed at 4 p.m., one spotted customers comfortably lingering around to chat and finish their meals.
Karavidas says he’s not likely to lock the door and shoo people out right at closing time. Many customers are regular -- easily 80 percent, he says, and a number of them have been dining there for decades -- and on a sunny Tuesday afternoon as business wound down for the day, it was clear the Karavidas and the wait staff knew many of the regulars, joshing around and sharing memories of the restaurant and the neighborhood.
The family story is an American classic, of immigrants making their way from Greece in the 1960s and starting a new life in the United States. In this case it was Lazaros’ mother Lamprini and her husband John.
She recalls how her husband, now deceased, had decided to go into the restaurant business. He said he knew how to cook, plus he had experience, including working at Archie’s in Roseville (now home to Dooley’s), so he ultimately decided to go to his own way and opened the diner on Harper in 1980 -- site of the former Angelo’s Shish-Kebab.
His widow continues to work there, whipping up soups, Moussaka, spinach pies and more, and helping with whatever needs to be done. When her husband passed in 2004, Mrs. Karavidas admits coming to the restaurant each day helped with the grief.
“(I want to) say thank you to all the people that supported us over the years,” she says. They’ve made a family’s living -- and coping with loss -- all the easier to bear.
The rest of the family chips in regularly, too, including Lazaros’ brother-in-law Dimitri and sister Bessie, along with a handful of wait staff.
The interior is neutral but appealing -- remodeled about six years ago -- with neat tan tiles adorning the walls, comfortable booths to sink in to, plus a few photos of family and of Greece dotting the room.
The menu is reasonable, too. Karavidas says they offer daily specials -- breakfast with coffee -- or lunch items, usually no more than $4.99. You can get buttermilk pancakes (named “wheat cakes” on the menu and kept that way as a small tribute to John Karavitas), omelets (including the surprisingly popular spinach, Lazaros says), beef and lamb gyros (with a red Tzatziki sauce invented by father John), classic sandwiches, Moussaka or spinach pie, salads (the Greek salad, with the softer pitas and their own house dressing, is quite popular, Karavidas says), as well as kebabs, combo plates, children’s menu items and more. Much of it hovers around the $5 range, and anything approaching $10 is rare.
Karas doesn’t have one of those menus that’s the size of a novel, either. They stick to a core of what works. “The goal,” Karavidas says, “is to try to keep stuff fresher.” You’re not likely to get something that’s been languishing in the freezer, and many items, like tuna salad, are made to order. “We want no waste,” he adds.
Lazaros says they offer daily specials, too, and two soups a day, including chicken lemon rice, lentil, cream of broccoli and more.
The anniversary week, Karavidas says, they’ll likely have some breakfast specials and possibly a couple other options for diners to enjoy.
Karas Family Restaurant is located at 27414 Harper. Hours are Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sunday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Reach them at 586-774-1590.