The public may feel The Parthenon abruptly closed on Monday, but ownership had contemplated the shutter for a while, said Lorraine Rieff-Liakouras. Rieff-Liakouras married Chris Liakouras, the co-owner of the Greektown restaurant landmark, and she pointed at constant construction around Halsted Street over the last two to three years for snarling traffic and business.
Despite media insinuation, Rieff-Liakouras said the shutter had nothing to do with failed health inspections from earlier this year, as ownership spent "tons of money" rectifying those problems. She found those conclusions insulting.
"Things are changing [in the area] a little bit, and business is slowing," she said. "My husband is 80 years old and he’s not going to fight the trends on things. You have to see the handwriting on the wall."
It was a sad decision for ownership, with some employees spending as many as 30 years at the restaurant. Rieff-Liakouras recalled employees handing out free ouzo to fun-seeking diners waiting in line. The area is changing. There’s more sports bars, and Rieff-Liakouras plans on opening her own. The Ambassador Public House will open this month inside The Parthenon’s former banquet hall. They may even serve The Parthenon’s famous flaming saganaki. More on that project later.
Though The Parthenon’s departure is a big blow to Greektown, Rieff-Liakouras doesn’t see the neighborhood’s ethnic identity vanishing. She’s also unsure what will replace the restaurant.
"If it’s three months, six months from know, I don’t know," she said. "It’s in a prime area. Who knows, maybe another Greek restaurant would open? We have no plans to do that and I don’t want to insinuate that at all."
The restaurant was about more than flaming cheese, as 48 years ago, most Chicagoans didn’t know what gyros tasted like. Most didn’t even know how to pronounce the word. That’s where The Parthenon came in. Rieff-Liakouras recalled the restaurant’s humble start before the restaurant helped make the area a bonafide destination for food in Chicago.
"It was the anchor; The Parthenon made Greektown. My husband brought everything to Chicago," she explained on Thursday morning. "He introduced them to the gyro. In the first two, three years when it was open, he would put it on as a complimentary appetizer to taste so people would get familiar with the gyro."