Peter’s Grill is shutting down

RICK NELSON , Vita.mn | Updated 6/26/2013

Owner Peter Atsidakos is closing his classic downtown diner following Saturday’s lunch service.

Peter’s Grill
File photo

Get ready for four of the saddest words in the English language: Peter’s Grill is closing.

Owner Peter Atsidakos is calling it quits after Saturday’s lunch service, and when he does, a part of Minneapolis will disappear.

“It’s not going to be easy for me to see that door closing,” he said. “My whole family has been serving the Twin Cities for 99 years.”

That’s right, a year shy of a century. Except for a brief period about a decade ago, the restaurant (114 S. 8th St., Mpls., www.petersgrill.com) has been in the same family since 1914, when brothers and Greek immigrants John Atsidakos and Peter Atcas started a fruit stand that grew into a restaurant.

It’s easy to take for granted that a landmark like Peter’s will be around forever. Unless you’re the one paying the bills and keeping 20 people employed, and business has taken a nose-dive during the past few summers. In June 2011, 500 to 600 customers a day were routinely walking through the doors. One day last week, that number was down to 85.

Peter Atsidakos, nephew of original co-owner Peter Atcas, points the finger at the downtown Minneapolis food truck phenomenon.

“It’s the worst thing that could have happened to me,” he said. “There are trucks up and down on Marquette, a whole line of them right on our block. I don’t know why they all have to be right there, on Marquette. Why not spread them out, on Nicollet, or Hennepin?”

The kitchen worked to adapt to its new competition. “We’ve tried everything,” he said. “We made the food better than before. We served bigger portions than before. And still, no business.”

Changing appetites may also be playing a part, with tastes for Peter’s straight-up comfort food on the wane. It’s an unfortunate development for those who enjoy a classic clubhouse sandwich, a turkey fricassee with dumplings and a yeasty dinner roll, a cling peach with cottage cheese or two eggs done any style with bacon and toast. Or anyone who appreciates being addressed as “dear” by their uniform-clad waitress.

Quick-service Peter’s embodied fast food before fast food was invented. Less than 4 minutes elapsed between the time I ordered an open-faced hot turkey sandwich and it materialized at my seat.

What a lunch: a generous dollop of sturdy mashed potatoes and a towering stack of juicy, freshly roasted and thickly carved white and dark meat on slices of soft white bread, the plate brimming with a savory gravy. It was the epitome of old-fashioned, homestyle cooking. I devoured it.

Atsidakos is in negotiations to sell the restaurant — the equipment and fixtures, anyway, although not the name, nor the recipes — to “three ladies, I won’t say their names,” he said. “I should donate the sign to the museum. I don’t know that I’m going to need it.”

The 73-year-old restaurateur said he’s unsure of his future.

“Retire? I don’t know how to do that,” he said with a laugh. “My hobby is work. I enjoy working in restaurants. I enjoy coming here. I can’t go and be an office guy.” One definite plan is to spend more time at his home in Greece.

As for the restaurant’s justifiably fabled apple pie recipe, it’s remaining with Atsidakos, although he did reveal two secrets: each mountainous pie — divided into six slices (“six big slices,” he said) — requires three pounds of apples, and they’re not Granny Smiths, despite the “green apple pie” title.

Fans of great pie — and Minneapolis history — should try and get in for a slice during the next few days. The doors close forever at 2:45 p.m. Saturday.