DETROIT – Greek-American Olga Loizon, the founder of Olga’s Kitchen, has passed away at age 92.
The idea to open the restaurant was born in Greece where Loizon and her three children, ages 12, 14, and 18 at the time, were on vacation visiting relatives and enjoying the local favorites including souvlaki and gyro.
Loizon noted in a past interview with Hometown Life, “I did it to make my kids happy. They liked (souvlaki) so much, that’s all they wanted to eat. I’m Greek-American. I knew I could make a lot of other kids happy.”
Attempting to purchase the vertical rotisserie for gyro and have it shipped to the United States from Greece was a challenge for Loizon who recalled, Hometown Life reported, “I heard someone in the kitchen swearing about me in Greek. I said, ‘I’ve got money. I want to take it to the states.’ I was talking Greek to the guy at the counter. He told me to get out. I left a cab waiting — I told him I’d be half an hour.”
Returning to her waiting children without the rotisserie, Loizon then visited an uncle and he was able to buy the rotisserie for her.
The first Olga’s Kitchen, just 11 by 14 feet, opened in the Continental Market as a shared space with a meat market, produce market, jewelry store and other businesses as well, Hometown Life reported.
“The sandwich was 75 cents. We had no pop machine, no cash register, just a drawer with the money in it,” said Bill Loizon, Olga’s son, as quoted on Hometown Life.
His mother noted, “We couldn’t afford it. The rent was $150 a month. Bill was worried that we wouldn’t make it (the rent). We made $14 the first day. I said we just have to be patient, be nice to the customers. I said we have to work harder.”
She made all the pita bread by hand and when the restaurant, after a few years, was sold to a company, Loizon continued working for her namesake restaurants and made all the pita bread since she was the recipe owner. A commercial mixer was eventually brought in to help speed the process.
Loizon said, as reported by Hometown Life, “The family stood behind me. The only one was (her husband) John. He says he’s not doing it and he’s not giving me a dime (for the business).”
The couple was married for over 70 years, but architect John Loizon “didn’t like the idea of his wife opening a restaurant,” though he occasionally made an appearance.
“We had been open about a year. We’re cutting meat and making pita bread when mom said, ‘Don’t say anything, but your dad is out there.’ He might have been hanging around for a while. Someone had said to him they should go to his wife’s restaurant,” Bill Loizon recalled, Hometown Life reported.
Olga Loizon recalled getting her fortune told once at the downtown Hudson’s store, “She [the fortune teller] told me I had three kids — two boys and a girl. Then she goes, ‘Oh.’ I didn’t want to hear if it was bad news. She said my first name was Olga and she saw my name in lights.”
In this case, the fortune teller got it right, since Olga’s name is indeed in lights at the 26 locations of Olga’s Kitchen.
The family posted on Facebook, “On behalf of Olga’s Kitchen and the Loizon family, thank you for your outpouring of support as we celebrate Olga Loizon’s life. And, a special thank you to the Detroit Free Press for its article on Olga and her journey to creating one of Detroit’s most iconic restaurants. #olgamemories.”
Funeral arrangements were pending.
In addition to her husband and son, Mrs. Loizon is survived by another son, Ernest Loizon; and a daughter, Emily Kontos.