CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After almost three decades of serving gyros, grape leaves and other Greek cuisine to customers -- many who became close friends -- Best of Crete owner Michael Birurakis has decided to hang up his apron.
Well, at least for now.
Patrons lined up in the Town Center Mall Food Court to get some of the last home-style entrees served at that location Thursday, which was the business's last day.
The closure is bittersweet for 51-year-old Michael, whose mother Joann and brother Greg opened the restaurant when the mall opened in October 1983.
"I'll miss all of my customers and my fellow workers," he said. "But I really need to recharge my batteries."
Michael, who was a district manager for Sterling Jewelers until about 10 years ago when he bought the family restaurant, has worked an average of 70 to 80 hours a week for the past 30 years. Now he is looking forward to relaxing.
But that's not to say he has ruled out opening another restaurant somewhere in the area in the future.
"If and when we open another restaurant we'll definitely announce it," he said. "And if we open one it'll be shorter hours and less days than we have here."
For now, Michael plans to relax and do the things that he enjoys doing, such as hunting, fishing and exercising.
He also plans to spend more time with his family, he said.
Running the restaurant has always been a family venture, he said. His mother Joann Birurakis, who will be 77 on March 3, still works at the restaurant on occasion, he said.
His father Bill helps out as well.
The recipes used at the restaurant are Joann's, Michael said. He hasn't changed one thing, including the companies he's selected to provide the ingredients.
"I've had companies approach me and ask me to use their brands, but I won't change a thing," Michael said.
Michael said his customers often tell him that his fare is as close to home-cooked food as they can get.
"And I tell them it is home-cooked food," he said with a laugh.
Growing up in a Greek family meant food was an important part each day and every gathering, he said.
His mother, who emigrated from Crete after marrying his father, a member of the U.S. military, cooked for her husband, Michael and his three brothers every day.
So transitioning into a restaurant atmosphere was no sweat for Joann, Michael said.
"She was used to cooking for a lot of people," he said. "And she's a great cook."
Joann, who was at the restaurant Thursday, said she would miss all of the patrons and workers at Best of Crete, too.
"I want to say thank you to the community and all of our supporters," Joann said.
Although he will no longer be working at the restaurant, Michael's cooking days are far from over.
He has always roasted a lamb over a spit for his church in Kanawha City, St. John Greek Orthodox.
His mother also promised his brother, who is recovering from a heart attack, that Michael will cook a lamb for the family on Easter.