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."