A Greek Love Story…

The history behind Popi and her places! 
- February 8, 2022 -

WORDS: Sheri Roca
PICTURES: Whitney Patton

Popi’s Place Family Restaurant in Ellenton is a cozy, diner-style restaurant known for its home-cooked meals and friendly service. It is one of five Popi’s restaurants currently owned and run by the Ameres family. It is truly a family-run business in every sense and proudly advertised as “one of the few remaining Florida restaurants that is chef-family owned and operated (since 1983)”. The original owners, Emmanuel and Popi, have four children and eight grandchildren, and everyone old enough is involved in making the family business a success. 

But it is Popi and Emmanuel’s story that truly captivated me. A Greek love story turned American dream. 

Emmanuel Ameres was already a Chef in the Greek Navy when he met Kalliopi (Popi) on the Greek island of Leros in 1969. Emmanuel, or Manny, originally from the island of Karthapos, was stationed at a Naval base on Popi’s home island of Leros. They first began just seeing each other around the island. She would follow him, and he would follow her. At one point, Popi’s brother, Mike, befriended Emmanuel and invited him back to their house.  

Popi was only 14 at that time, and Emmanuel had plans to go to the United States with his brother, but he knew Popi was “the one,” so he promised to come back for her. After serving his time of one year in the Greek Navy, he went to Popi’s mother, Katina, and asked for her hand in marriage. He explained that he was going to America, but he would be back in five years to marry Popi. In secret, he told Popi that he would be back for her in two years.  

Manny left for America on May 10th, 1969, and was back exactly one year later to marry Popi on May 10th of 1970. On June 7th, 1970, they were married when Popi was just 16 years old. After three months in Athens getting the proper paperwork for Popi, they left together for New York and then on to Cleveland, Ohio. 

Emmanuel worked for The Brown Derby restaurant in Ohio, and Popi was able to get a job there as well. Although she started as a custodian, cleaning and washing dishes, within just a few years, she was able to work her way up to a Chef’s position as well, which was nearly unheard of at that time. 

The promise of a partnership in a Brown Derby restaurant in Clearwater, Florida, is what originally brought them to the sunshine state in the early 1970s. When that did not work out, Popi and the Ameres brothers started their own restaurant called The Grape Vines. Although the restaurant was successful, it was difficult to support all the families.  

So, they opened the 7 Seas restaurant. Another success, but not as profitable as they had hoped, so while Emmanuel kept that restaurant running, Popi and Emmanuel’s brother Gus opened Old Town Café. Eventually, through hard work and long hours, sometimes starting at 4:00 am and not ending until 1:00 am, Emmanuel and Popi were able to go out on their own and open the original Popi’s Place next to what is known today as Lecom Park. 

After leaving her family at age 16, Popi was only able to talk to her mother about once a month. This was very difficult for a young teenage girl, not just in a new home but in a new country. It wasn’t until seven years later that Popi returned home to Greece and saw her mother, now with three children in tow. When she recalls her first trip home and her first sight of the lighthouse on Leros, she remembers being so taken with emotion that she was unable to even speak. 

I had the privilege of visiting the Popi’s location in Ellenton, which is run by Popi and Emmanuel with the help of their daughter Katina. Although the restaurant seems perpetually busy, the wait was short, and customers were all seated and greeted promptly. We opted for a comfy green booth by the window, but there is also diner-style counter seating, if you prefer, with no waiting.  

The menu is extensive, starting with three pages of breakfast options, served until 3:00 pm daily, offering everything from Omelets, French toast, and breakfast sandwiches to Popi’s Famous Chicken Biscuit Breakfast.  

The lunch and dinner menus include soups, salads, sandwiches, and some Italian entrees, steaks, chops, and seafood. You will find a few Greek specialties like Spanakopita (spinach pie) and a fresh Greek Salad topped with Popi’s homemade Greek dressing (which she bottles and is available for purchase in the Popi’s restaurants and in local stores like Detwiler’s). When asked what her specialty is, Popi said, “Everything is special,” but she is particularly proud of her Lemon Chicken Rice soup.

Everything is chef-made in the restaurants, using the highest quality ingredients. Fresh eggs and dairy come from Sutters, a local farm, and the bread comes from a local bakery in Bradenton. 

But it is not just the food quality or quantity that makes Popi’s Place special. Popi’s is a staple in the community, and both the family and the staff are very involved. “The community takes care of us, and we try to take care of them,” said daughter-in-law Jennifer Ameres. “Many of our customers have become friends and family. Some even dine with us seven days a week.” And according to Jennifer, they are now serving their fourth generation of customers and getting to know the grandchildren and even the great-grandchildren of some of the original patrons. 

Even the employees have become like family in many cases. There is a server that has worked at Popi’s for more than 23 years, and there are now children of some of their family of staff members that work at Popi’s as well. 

Many attribute the restaurant’s success, at least in part, to the generosity of the Ameres family. Popi and Emmanuel are very charitable people, giving of their time, food, and talents whenever needed, and they taught their children to be the same.  

They have been known to bring food to families who have fallen on hard times and regularly make donations to churches, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Palmetto Police Department, and local hospitals. They coach soccer teams and make a presence at many charitable events, like the Empty Bowls event, where you can sample Popi’s famous Lemon Chicken soup every year. 

Popi’s also offers catering for weddings and other events. You will likely see them serving more than 15,000 people in just three days at the Greek Glendi at the Greek Orthodox church in February each year. 

 

Locations

  • Popi’s Place Too
    815 8th Ave W, Palmetto, FL 34221 
  • Popi’s Place III
    10508 US-41, Palmetto, FL 34221 
  • Popi’s Place IV
    3911 US-301, Ellenton, FL 34222 
  • Popi’s Place Lockwood Ridge
    3232 17th St, Sarasota, FL 34235 
  • Popi’s Place VI
    6409 Manatee Ave W, Bradenton, FL 34209 

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