Senate restaurants celebrate 80 years in business
(April 13, 2017) – When walking into George’s Senate Restaurant on Haggerty Road, a customer is nearly guaranteed three things: Fresh food, quickly served dishes, and a smile from owner George Dimopoulos.
Dimopoulos is still at work every day, often before 4 a.m., to ensure potatoes, dressings, soups, and rice pudding are freshly prepared. The work ethic that helped him and his family build a chain of successful family-dining restaurants continues to drive him at an age when most of his peers are retired.
“The people keep me happy,” he said. “They keep me going. I love talking to them every day.”
His uncle, George Hinaris, started the family business in 1937 by opening a Detroit restaurant on Michigan Avenue called Senate Coney Island, named for its close proximity to the Senate Theater.
In 1969, Dimopoulos immigrated to Detroit from his native Greece and worked in the original Senate Coney Island. He said he quickly learned the importance of working long hours, preparing fresh ingredients, and providing a comfortable dining atmosphere.
Senate Coney Island added a second location on Ecorse Road in Taylor in 1972. Dimopolous brought the chain to Plymouth Road in Livonia in 1985, which is primarily run today by his sons Niko and Steven.
After the original Detroit restaurant caught fire in 1990 and did not re-open, the family opened a Dearborn location on Greenfield Road in 1994. Then Dimopoulos opened the Haggerty Road location on the Northville-Livonia border in 2005.
While he spends most of his time at the Haggerty Road location, Dimopoulos and his wife, Kathy, keep a close eye on the other restaurants.
“She goes in all the time to taste the soups all day, to make sure everything is okay and tasting right,” he said.
The effort results in a loyal base of customers, such as Lita Hoyer, who started visiting the Taylor location in the 1970s, and recently dined at the Haggerty location.
“We love the food, but we love George more,” said Hoyer, a West Bloomfield resident. “We have family who live in Chicago, and every time they come to visit, they want to eat at Senate.”
The Senate restaurants have been frequented by famed sports figures Gordie Howe, Ernie Harwell, Tomas Holmstrom, and Scotty Bowman. Pictures of Dimopoulos with each are displayed on the walls of the Haggerty Road location.
The careful attention to fresh dishes and customer service helped grow the business, but the Dimopoulos family has made extraordinary efforts to give back to the community. They made many donations to churches, schools, nonprofit organizations, and needy families for decades.
His effort to provide free meals to hundreds of people who are alone on Thanksgiving garnered national media attention in recent years. Dimopoulos said his personal experience moves him to provide these meals.
“When I was young in Greece, I lived alone,” he said. “So when somebody talked to me, or did something for me, it meant a lot to me, so I wanted to give back to others.”
The Livonia Chamber of Commerce recognized the Livonia location as its outstanding small business of the year in 2010. The chamber and city officials plan a special ceremony in May to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Senate Coney Island.
“George is a legend in this town,” said chamber president Dan West. “He is a model we can all admire for how to run a successful business with good relationships, loyalty to customers, and dedication to the community.”
To recognize the 80th anniversary of the Senate restaurants, each location will offer Coney dogs for $1 throughout the month of May. “This is a way,” Dimopoulos said, “to show how much we appreciate the support we’ve received from all the communities and people throughout the years.”