After seven months of sleepless nights staring at the ceiling and wondering how he was going to support his four kids, Tom Demacopoulos is writing his own happy ending to a Greek tragedy.
Forced out of Orland Park’s oldest shopping center in an eminent domain takeover, Demacopoulos has re-invented his popular Plaza Café that is reopening in Oak Lawn on Thursday morning as "Stacked."
Two days before his soft opening, Demacopoulos, wife, Cristina, niece Katrina, and friend Steve the Sales Guy, were removing the last traces of the former Baja Fresh Mexican Grill.
“That’s going,” Demacopoulos said, pointing to a wall-sized mural of a Margarita."The Baja sign on the front of store is coming down on Thursday, but we're going to be open."
Demacopoulos’s saga started three years ago, when the village of Orland Park acquired the Orland Plaza for economic re-development. Forced to uproot were a dozen small, independently owned businesses, the latest byproducts of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows governments to condemn private property for economic redevelopment as well as for roads and public utilities.
“I don’t want to be quick to blame [Orland Park],” Demacopoulos said. “They had a vision and wanted to do something for the community. Unfortunately when you do something like [eminent domain] there are consequences and there are casualties.”
All of the businesses leasing storefronts at Orland Plaza were provided with relocation expenses required under the law. Demacopoulos received $105,805 from the village to move his restaurant.
“Orland Park handled me fairly,” he said. “There is a process and a formula to what you’re entitled to as a reimbursement relocating.”
Although he called his settlement “fair and equitable” it still wasn’t quite enough to get started in Oak Lawn. Demacopoulos and his wife ended up putting their savings into the new restaurant.
“I’m rolling the dice,” Demacopoulos said, “but I’m extremely confident that Oak Lawn will embrace me as Orland Park did.”
Demacopoulos is already off to a good start. Many residents wanted to see another restaurant open in the space occupied for a short while by a Baja Fresh Mexican Grill. His wife, Cristina, discovered the space for lease driving past it on 95th Street taking the couple’s 13-year-old son to hockey practice at the Oak Lawn Ice Arena.
“Sometimes you don’t see things there until you’re supposed to,” Demacopoulos says, touching his nose.
His roots run deep in Oak Lawn. He learned how to cook at the Oak Lawn Snack Shop (now the Oak Lawn Family Restaurant) after his dad fired him from the Texaco station formerly located at Southwest Highway and 95th Street that was wiped out in the 1967 Oak Lawn tornado.
“Olson Rug Company is there now,” Demacopoulos said. “All my friends grew up in Oak Lawn. My dad still owns property in Oak Lawn.”
Located in the only semi-walkable section of Oak Lawn, Demacopoulos is banking on foot traffic from Metra commuters and neighborhood residents. The new Stacked offers the same traditional diner food as did the Orland Park eatery—omelets, skillets, pancakes, French toast, chops, soups, salads and Angus burgers.
“We thought about continuing with the old name but it served its purpose,” Demacopoulos said. “We’re moving into a new chapter in our lives and we wanted to come up with something new.”
In addition to bringing his top-secret recipes for red velvet pancakes, banana bread French toast and Irish-style Eggs Benedict, Demacopoulos is bringing his staff of eight from the Orland Park diner and hired two, new part-time workers.
On Wednesday, staff came to the new restaurant to practice in the unfamiliar kitchen and front room. Most them have been with Demacopoulos since he bought the Orland Plaza diner in 2005 after spending most of his career in food sales.
“When I told them we were closing I painted a worst-case scenario,” he said. I told them it may be two, three months,” he said. “They had other offers but told me they weren’t working for anybody else. When you treat people with respect it pays you back tenfold. They’re family.”
Demacopoulos is eager to open and start making money again after seven months with no income.
“We’re going to continue to serve great food, give great service, and keep it clean,” Demacopoulos said. “Give me six months and I’ll know 90 percent of my customers by first name like I did in Orland. I knew their birthdays and who was getting married. I’d take food to people’s homes when they were sick. I’ll continue to do the same here.”
Stacked is located at 5273 W. 95th St. Hours of operation are 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. seven days a week. The average cost of breakfast and lunch is $7.45. Stacked also offers free wifi for customers. Stacked offers dine-in service as well as carryout service. The website and Facebook page are coming soon; contact Stacked by phone at 708-422-5555. Free parking is available in the rear.