Royal Goodbye | Buzz Blog

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Royal Goodbye

Venerable downtown eatery closes its doors after 35 years.

Posted By on July 3, 2016, 8:40 AM

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click to enlarge Deno Priskos mans Royal Eatery's grill prior to the establishment's July 2 closing. - ENRIQUE LIMÓN
  • Enrique Limón
  • Deno Priskos mans Royal Eatery's grill prior to the establishment's July 2 closing.

Under the watchful gaze coming from a portrait of the late founder Chris Priskos, downtown's Royal Eatery shut its doors on Saturday, July 2.

Situated on the corner of 400 South and Main Street, the diner buzzed with laughter and familiar faces just as it had for 35 years, as sizzling burgers were flipped on large metal grills behind the counter. Save for a remodel in 1990 when the rooms at the above New Grand Hotel were converted to apartments, the place hasn't changed much since its opening, which has lent a hand to its success and popularity among locals and tourists alike. But a sign above the menu served as a reminder of the end of an era:

“The Royal Eatery is proud to announce that we will be merging with the Apollo Burger restaurants. Our last business day will be July 2nd before we close for remodel. From our family to yours, thank you for all the wonderful years and we will see you again when we return as Apollo Burger.”

The diner was a family affair in every sense of the word. Chris and his family immigrated to the U.S. from Greece in 1966. He and his brother started the business in 1981. Chris' brother moved to California soon after, however, leaving it to Chris and his wife, Tula. After working there nearly full-time since he was 12, their son Deno bought the business from his father in 1998. He's been a daily presence there ever since, which ultimately led to his decision to close.

Deno's last day was business as usual. He woke up at 4:45 a.m., and arrived around 5:30 to prep and fire up the grills for the locale's 6 a.m. opening. Longtime customers filled the tables, ordered their usuals and hung back for a while to bid their goodbyes.

The overwhelming reaction has been "disappointment, but also understanding why we're doing it," Deno says. "A lot of them are OK with it, they're just sad to see me not be here every day."

Sitting at a front table long after finishing their meals, regulars Taylor Defa and Kayla Maioriello spoke to that. "It's one of the only small-town-diner-feeling places that is left," Defa says.

Maioriello agrees, adding that it reminds her of her home back in Maine. "I'm proud of their accomplishments and I'm proud of where they're going, but it's almost like you're losing a family."

Jason Mathis, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, echoes the loss. "It's one of those places that helps make SLC unique," he says. "Obviously, we're sad about the closing. It's been a great institution for years."

click to enlarge The Royal Eatery team, Kosta Priskos, Wilson Clement, Deno Priskos, Lora Thompson and Lucas Priskos pose for one last class picture on July 2.
  • The Royal Eatery team, Kosta Priskos, Wilson Clement, Deno Priskos, Lora Thompson and Lucas Priskos pose for one last class picture on July 2.

On Saturday, the Priskos clan, including aunts, uncles, cousins, grandchildren and more, filled the back quarter of the restaurant for several hours, ordering one of everything, taking photos, laughing and reminiscing on memories of the many birthday parties and Christmas gatherings held there.

"I'm sad," Vivian McCarthy, Deno's brother's mother in-law, says. "I'm very, very sad because this is like the end of the Royal legacy."

Lucas, Deno's son and an employee, agrees. "Grandpa started it, and it's kind of like the biggest part of him that was still around," he says. "But it's good that he gets to move on to something else finally."

The reason for closing is "to get me out of the trenches," Deno says with a laugh. "It's time to do something different and have some weekends and enjoy myself a little bit." He'll be taking a much-needed vacation in Alaska for a few weeks before the reopening, which is expected early September.

Though the menu will soon sport the Apollo Burger logo, Royal Eatery's loyal patrons can take comfort in the fact that the food won't change much. "About 95 percent of our items are almost the same, so there's not a big difference there," Deno says. The Apollo Burger, for example, is a near-replica of the Royal Burger—both topped with pastrami and both under $6.

Additionally, a few of the staff members will continue working there, including Deno on occasion. "I'll be dropping in, but I won't be at one location," he says, "I'll be helping them with all [13] locations. ... working on growth and operations, whatever needs to be done."

To longtime customers, Deno extends "a big thank you," and hopes to see them again from time to time in the new restaurant.

"It's sad, but, you know, just a new chapter in life," he says. "I think we've made [my father] very proud with what we've accomplished."

About The Author

Andrea Harvey

Andrea Harvey

Harvey has been City Weekly's grammar-savvy copy editor since November 2015. The Portland native has a B.A. in journalism from the University of Oregon, and is a lover of sushi, IPAs and feminism.

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