Remembering the New Hellas Cafe

The New Hellas Cafe was my favorite restaurant in Greektown, (which is less and less “Greek” every day, unfortunately).  Tassia Russell was kind enough to send me this photo of where it used to be, along with an anecdote and request.

Where The New Hellas Cafe once stood

More importantly, Tassia’s father owned the restaurant. Here’s a story she passes along:

My grandfather, prior to his untimely death at 65 years old, was the butcher in the back of the kitchen. My Aunt Mary, who passed away recently was the ONLY afternoon female server there …EVER! I tried to be a waitress but it only lasted two weeks. I was completely sabotaged by the kitchen and other servers!

Funny story…one day when I ordered a saganaki or “flaming cheese” during the lunch rush-hour, the kitchen thought it funny-as did all the male servers-to fill the shot glass with brandy for the “flame”. Mind you, it was probably my second or third attempt to light a saganaki by myself. Well, I poured and lit it, suddenly the flame engulfed not only me but surrounding patrons. One man laughed and yelled…”LAWSUIT!” (the patrons were mostly attorneys at the time). Suffice to say my eyebrows were singed, my arm hair was completely burned off and I shook uncontrollably for thirty minutes following this “practical”-nearly-an-emergency-room-joke! I never lit a saganaki again. It took me at least a few months to talk with the staff involved or even consume another saganaki!

Tassia’s request, which I hope you can help her fulfill, is this:  If you have any memories please pass them along to her via the blog comments here. As she says, if you remember the New Hellas, and write a comment,

“I’d love to share them with Dad as he still mourns the loss of his past and over 40 years of incredible memories.”

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16 thoughts on “Remembering the New Hellas Cafe

  1. It is hard to conjure up a specific story, but New Hellas was a regular launch point for a night out. Friends and I would grab dinner there, then head out into whatever grabbed our attention that night.

    I was partial to the lamb shank. I was incredibly bummed when the place announced that it was closing. It had an authenticity to it that I knew was not going to be replaced.

    We still grab a dinner in Greek Town from time to time, but no place has quite the charm Hellas did.

  2. I’m an immigrant from Baltimore, Maryland. When I first moved here Hellas and the other Greektown restaurants, reminded me of home. Baltimore has lots of little pockets where you’ll find great ethnic food devoted to one European county or another. Greektown is the only one in Detroit that Wally seemed flourishing. Now, 20 years later, it’s disappearing along with the rest of Detroit. Yes, it’s sad, but we have all the wonderful memories.

  3. Nothing was better or more comforting than the side of potatoes that came with your gyro at New Hellas. I was so sad to see it was gone on my recent trip to Greektown. Tearing down established restaurants and replacing them with chain and franchise ones is not my idea of progress. Isn’t there enough available land and vacant real estate in and around that area where one could start a new business? Seems like another wasted opportunity to grow the Greektown footprint.

  4. The restaurant was owned by my grandfather (gus Anton) an was opened by his father in 1901… My grandfather retired and sold the building… And just to clarify, Mary was the longest working female there, but not the only one… I grew up knowing Mary, and was very sad to hear of her passing.

    Maybe your father was a partner at one time Tassia, but the reastaurant had always been in my family, specifically owned by my grandparents, Gus and Zoe Anton

  5. I really miss New Hellas, and Gus in particular, all the more since my father, Ric Siegel, passed away a few weeks ago. My dad was a regular patron, and even did some work for Gus, typesetting and doing the layout for the menus for many years. One of the very last things that Dad wanted before passing was one more order of Hellas’ lamb and lima beans.

  6. New Hellas was always a prime spot for when I went out on a first date and was in downtown in the 70’s.
    The atmosphere was charming and the food was comforting.

  7. Tassia Russell introduced me, my brother, and sister to New Hellas Cafe back in 1994. I miss that place! Thanks again, Tassia!

  8. Gus and his wife were two of my closest friends. I met Gus in 1966 while on my first date. In 1972 I opened Trapper’s Alley next to the Grecian Gardens and operated the project for nearly two years. Gus and Zoe are both gone but I do speak with their daughter from time to time to share some great memories. There is nothing as good as an omelette made with lamb and feta cheese at two o’clock in the morning.

  9. Twenty years ago, my husband and I had our first date at New Hellas Cafe. I had the chicken lasagna (which I would love to have the recipe to make) and my husband had the lamb and rice. We took our son after he was born and he has never enjoyed “Opa” cheese anyplace else. We talk about the memories of meals out, the wonderful bread, the cold beer, and the amazing waitstaff. We miss Hellas so much and wish it could be back on the corner again.

  10. Just stumbled upon this blog……I am from PA, but spent many summers as a child and teen in Mt. Clemens, my dad’s hometown. We LOVED Hella’s and have so many delightful memories dining with our Michigan family there in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Several of our Michigan relatives have passed on now….so, so sad that we will never be able to visit Hella’s again, but thanks for the memories – we cherish them!!

  11. I didn’t know, until now, that Greektown is disappearing and that New Hellas has already been gone for a while. I moved to Detroit for a job at Chevrolet in 1971 and stayed until 1982 when I moved back home to California. I have never found anyplace else in the USA like Greektown, and it was one of the things I’ve most missed about Detroit. That was a great decade in my life.

  12. I grew up outside Detroit in the 70’s and 80’s and my parents would take us downtown once in a while and we would always go to Hellas. I remember how dark it was, and how huge the flames were when someone ordered saganaki – the flames sometimes hit the ceiling! The way the servers would yell OPA was something I just have never seen anywhere since. I also loved the rice pudding – I get it at every greek restaurant, and none compare to Hellas! I really wish it was still around.

    • There’s a new New Hellas! It’s now located on Northwestern in Southfield, and it’s run by Jimmy (the former Maitre D’, and Gus’s partner) and Demetrios (the former head chef), so food-wise it should be pretty much like the old place. I haven’t been there yet, but people I know who have say it’s great!

  13. My parents would take my sister, brother and I there when we were kids in the 70’s. Anytime I went downtown until I left Michigan in the early 90’s I would try to get to Hellas. It was authentic, fun, and I have never found better rice pudding since. Now when I take my kids to greek restaurants, and the server mumbles ‘opa’, its so lame… I tell my kids how the servers did it at Hellas – “OOOPPPPAAAAA!!!”. Nothing will ever compare. I’m sure everyone has something special that they miss about Detroit – for me, it’s Hellas.

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