Laraine Ritchie clutched a to-go bag on Wednesday night filled with garlic toast and breadsticks to savor at home after enjoying her final meal at Rochester's Michaels restaurant.
"It's the best garlic toast in town," she said.
Michaels ended its 63-year run in the city on New Year's Eve with fans of the restaurant packing the dining room for one last meal. When Ritchie heard the news that the landmark restaurant was closing, she cried.Then, she got on the phone and made reservations so she could be there for the eatery's final night.
Many others made the same plans. One of the owners, Michael Pappas, was so busy trying to seat people and review the reservation book that he didn't have a moment to talk about the restaurant's final night. Madeline VanDerHayden, the granddaughter of one of the owners, Charles Pappas, barely had a minute to talk while manning the coat check.
"It's been crazy hectic. We've checked over 200 coats, and it's only 5 p.m., and we're out of room," she said.
In 1951, Michael and Mary Pappas and their four sons, George, James, Paul and Charles, teamed up to open Michaels. Last month, the Pappas family announced it had reached an agreement with Rochester developer Gus Chafoulias to close the restaurant, demolish the building and develop a new retail center. That center would connect the Shops at University Square and the planned Broadway at Center project, which are both owned by Chafoulias. The family does plan to open a "smaller, sleeker" restaurant in the new retail center.
VanDerHeyden said the family has been overwhelmed by the public's response to the restaurant's closing. They even ended up having to take the phone off the hook because they were being deluged with so many calls.
"We were just surprised at how many people reacted and were so devastated," VanDerHeyden said.
At one point in the evening, a woman walked up to VanDerHayden to check her coat and told her, "It's a sad night."
Also mourning the restaurant's closure was Pete Chafos. His family used to operate a shoe repair shop where the adjacent Pappageorges Taverna sits. He vividly remembers competing with his brother to shine the Pappas brothers' shoes as a boy of 5 or 6 because they were good tippers. Chafos took over the family's shoe repair business, which moved to Apache Mall in 1980. For more than 30 years, he has celebrated New Year's Eve at Michaels. When he heard the restaurant was closing, Chafos told his wife to call right away and make reservations for the last night.
"When I read the article (about Michaels closing) it made me sick. I grew up with the Pappases," Chafos said.
Also patiently waiting for a table Wednesday night was Steve Leqve. He grew up in Rochester and said he's been coming to Michaels for years and years. While he's sad to see the restaurant close, Leqve said it's just a part of the changes as Rochester prepares to grow.
"I kind of feel bad, but the whole city is changing," Leqve said. "Change is not necessarily bad."