Family members are still flooded with calls and texts, but they say the decision came from their mother, and they understand and respect her wishes.
The iconic eatery was run by the hard-working Rigas family whose insistence on quality made them legendary.
Clara Rigas recalls asking the bank for a loan to start a restaurant in 1963.
“They said, ‘You’re going to open a restaurant? We couldn’t advise you on that. Because if you do, we only give you six months. Bellaire is a small town,'” she recalled.
But Rigas’ Restaurant thrived and prospered.
Clara and Mike Rigas’ daughter Rosalie was eight years old when she started there as a dishwasher.
Their son Chris was nearly born at the restaurant.
“My mother left work here and and made it to the hospital just in the nick of time to have me,” Chris Regas noted with a smile.
Their father, Mike Rigas, had a legendary work ethic.
The whole family worked, got injured and worked some more.
“Cuts, burns, yes, we’ve fallen and hurt ourselves, burned ourselves, but my father kept on telling us to keep on going, and to always take care of the customers,” Chris said.
There was even a non-fatal electrocution!
“I had a knife in my hand,” recalls Rosalie Rigas Kovalyk. “I was on a metal ladder and I went to push the salt shaker from behind the coffee maker, and I was stuck on the 220 wire. They tried to push me off, and couldn’t push me off. It was a Saturdaty morning. This place was packed.”
She finally fell off the ladder.
“I was bleeding,” she recalled. “And my dad said, ‘Shhh, shhh! You’re going to scare the customers!’ “
They came to cherish the customers like family.
They knew each person’s favorite dish, and everything they served was homemade.
“My Swiss steak, which my father taught me, has a Greek flair to it because of the rosemary and the homemade peppermint that we grow in our own garden,” said Chris.
“It was a labor of love, but a lot of work, especially after the deaths of their father in 1999 and their cousin George last year.
“Sixteen hour days,” said Rosalie. “We started at 4:30 when I was pregnant with my little girl. And we worked until 8:30 at night. This is where we are, 90 percent of our time.”
Last Sunday after church, Clara Rigas, now 85, decided to close the restaurant.
“My husband died working hard. So did my cousin. And now they (Rosalie and Chris) are working their heads off. I want them to have a little bit of a life,” Clara said.
It came as a shock to her children, but they respect their mother’s wishes.
They covered the windows and put up a Closed sign.
“I’m going to take it slow on the next chapter,” said Chris. “God has blessed us to the point where we are able to do this. So I’m just going to sit back for a couple of months and see what happens.”
“Yes, honor thy father and they mother,” Rosalie said. “I think she may have just realized she wants to spend more time with us without having to worry about everything here. And it was just time for her to lock the doors.”
They had the restaurant blessed by a priest when they opened more than five decades ago, they had it blessed this week after they closed, and every year in between.
They express their love and gratitude to all their loyal customers.
They estimate there were literally a million people through the doors over their 54 years in business.