Login to Claremont COURIER

Yiannis Greek restaurant to close this month

It’s the end of an era—local favorite Yiannis will be closing after 57 years in the Claremont Village.

The Greek restaurant, which has called their location at 238 Yale Avenue home since 1962, will be closing its doors for the last time at the end of July.

For owner Greg Gianakos, whose family has run the restaurant since its inception, the decision to walk away was simple.

“It’s just that time,” he said.

Mr. Gianakos, 60, has run Yiannis for 41 years, many of those along with his brother Jim and their mother Stella. As the restaurant prepped to open for dinner Tuesday afternoon, traditional Greek music filled the air as Mr. Gianakos reminisced.

“Being downtown in the Village, it’s been great,” he said. “I don’t think you can expect anything better than this.”

Yiannis wasn’t always a Greek restaurant. When Greg’s parents, John and Stella Gianakos, bought it in 1962, it was Yale Café, specializing in classic American fare, according to a previous COURIER report. That all changed in 1972, when the restaurant shifted to Greek cuisine and became “Yiannis,” which is Greek for “John.”

Greg Gianakos grew up here, and he remembers working on homework in the restaurant and, eventually, running the place itself.

“Growing up in the restaurant business, working as a full time job, it’s been wonderful, it’s been great,” he said.

The dark cedar walls, pictures and lamp fixtures in the restaurant have remained the same since then, serving as a time capsule of a Claremont that is gradually fading away.

Yiannis has been a vital part of Claremont Village history, and Mr. Gianakos himself has seen multiple generations of people come and go over the years. Claremonters have come in to enjoy the fried cheese, moussaka, gyros and Stella Gianakos’ famous baklavas.

“They come in when they’re little kids, and when they get older they come in by themselves, or they’d come in with their kids,” he said. “That’s pretty cool, that’s the best part.”

In some instances, five generations of the same family has dined at Yiannis over the years, Mr. Gianakos said. The restaurant has played host to numerous special events as well, including wedding receptions, wakes and anniversary parties.

“It makes them feel like it’s a part of them,” he said. “They come in here and they go, ‘Wow, this hasn’t changed.’ They like that.”

The space will eventually become a ramen restaurant, Mr. Gianakos said, run by the people behind neighboring Union on Yale. He noted the classic wood walls are going to be kept after the new restaurant settles in.

Mr. Gianakos said some regular customers have been dismayed by the news about Yiannis shutting its doors.

“They don’t like change, they like things to stay the same,” he said.

A post about the restaurant’s closing on the Facebook group “You Know You’re From Claremont” elicited nearly 100 comments from old-timers.

Former Claremonter Karen Tupman was just one of the many who shared a Yiannis story.

“Their food was as good as I had in Greece. Wish I was there so I could enjoy their food one last time,”?Ms. Tupman shared. “It was my parents’ and my most favorite place in Claremont to dine. We always had to go there when I was home on break from college in the 1970s and ‘80s. What a wonderful family; I wish them much happiness!”

The news brought up childhood memories for many people, like Annie Wildbear.

“Awe, it was a favorite when I was a kid. Avgolemono!” Ms. Wildbear wrote in reference to the restaurant’s famous egg, lemon and chicken soup.

Local resident Catherine Brundage agreed.

“I lived on [avgolemono] when I had my wisdom teeth out,” she recalled.

For Mr. Gianakos and his family, he said it is the customers he will miss most.

“The people, the friends I made over a period of time, the excitement sometimes of people who are very famous, different people you’ve had,” he said. “I remember coming in here and seeing Jack Benny in the sixties.”

He’ll miss the different kinds of people one would meet in a college town, including students and their families who come from all across the world.

“It makes it worth so much. It makes it interesting and fun,” Mr. Gianakos said.

But in the end, Mr. Gianakos is looking forward to the benefits of retirement, like doing some fishing from time to time. What’s up first for the longtime restaurant owner?

“I think I’ll go home, have a little breakfast and watch TV,” he said. 

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com