By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
ST. JOSEPH — Dino Tripodis didn’t think it would take two years to reopen his popular breakfast restaurant.
It in fact took a little more than two years to do so.
Many from the area have been celebrating the return of Dino’s Restaurant & Pancake House this week, as Tripodis opened the doors Monday to his business at 2939 Niles Ave. in St. Joseph Township.
Tripodis has seen a lot of familiar faces the last few days. He referred to it as a sort of family reunion.
On only their second day open, Tripodis spent a lot of his time swapping hugs and doling out handshakes with former customers who stopped in to get a look at the place.
“I’m in my element here,” he said Tuesday afternoon from a booth near the back of the restaurant. “This is where I need to be. This is it for me.
“I don’t think I have a better niche in the entire world than right here.”
Pancakes to wings
In the summer of 2013, a franchisee who owned more than 30 stores, approached Tripodis with the idea of buying the property of Dino’s former restaurant and turning it into a Buffalo Wild Wings.
At the time, Tripodis was already considering an extensive renovation of the building, which was built in the 1970s.
“We had been putting a lot of money into that facility just to keep it standing,” Tripodis said laughing. “With an expansion in mind, Buffalo Wild Wings came in with an offer that was so good, I could have built a new one. It took us about 15 minutes to make a deal.”
Tripodis originally opened his restaurant in March 2004. Exactly a decade later, Tripodis closed the doors to many goodbyes.
“I was surprised by how quick it took them to knock it down,” Tripodis said. “I guess they can come down pretty easy if you want them to. Literally, within a week it was gone.”
Demosthenes Tripodis, Dino’s son, recalled how surprising the sale was. Demosthenes, also known as “Demo” by many, began bussing tables for his father at the age of 9.
“We started out in Michigan City, Indiana. That was my grandfather who opened that up,” Demo said from inside his father’s new restaurant. “I was working at 9 years old. From there it went to dishwashing, to cooking and then to the front-of-the-house type stuff.”
Demo said he didn’t think his father would have sold the business initially, but was happy when he heard a year ago that his father was interested in opening another version of the breakfast joint.
However, that doesn’t mean Demo will be throwing on his apron back on. The closure in 2014 led to his departure from the restaurant industry as Demo now works at a staffing agency in Holland.
A lot of barriers
Tripodis’ plans to return to southern St. Joseph and open another restaurant were slowed after he sold the property and his former restaurant to Buffalo Wild Wings.
It took longer than anticipated because of the search for the right location.
The first spot Tripodis wanted was to go right across the street from the current location on Lydia and Niles (where Hilltop Road makes the cross). However, Tripodis said the township discouraged him because residents didn’t want a business there.
Tripodis said he and the owner of that property at one point had an agreement for the price of the land.
But because the parcel was zoned residential, Tripodis’ lawyers told him it would be a difficult and costly thing to do. So, he decided against it.
“I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers,” he said. “I had made a living in St. Joe and Southtown for years, and I didn’t want to hamper that memory.”
Tripodis also looked at an additional Niles Avenue property further south across from Nye’s Apple Barn near the I-94 bypass. However, interest soon ceased when he discovered there were no storm sewers established there at the time.
‘A grueling process’
After Tripodis opened Chicago Grill on the corner of Glenlord Road and Red Arrow Highway in Stevensville, he sold it after a year and turned another profit.
From there, Tripodis approached Shopping Plaza Inc. and bought the suite that used to house Honeybaked Ham. The only problem was the suite was about 2,400 square feet. Tripodis decided to buy the adjoining 1,000-square-foot suite and combine the two into what is now the restaurant.
“They wanted me in and gave me a lucrative enough deal to come in and also accounted for some of the outbuild as well,” Tripodis said of the building’s owners. “We did a total renovation to what the space allowed. They put out quite a bit of money for the sprinkler system.”
Tripodis signed the lease in mid-July and then hired Pearson Construction of Benton Harbor. Another six weeks and several permits later, construction began.
Other than various pictures from the former restaurant, Tripodis only brought with him the same mirror he had on the back wall and a handful of paintings.
A few of the former employees came back to work for Tripodis and some of his family came out to help him get ready for the opening.
Hours of operation for Dino’s Restaurant & Pancake House were then set for 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week. Tripodis said expanded hours are not out of the question as time goes on.
“I’m just relieved it’s over because after six months in, it got to that point where you just wanted to get it open,” Tripodis said. “It’s more exhausting getting it open than running it. It’s a grueling process for sure, but I’m glad I did it.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 28, 2016)