By Alex Russell
Anthony’s Restaurant is a masterclass in perseverance and determination. A staple of Falls Church, it’s witnessed a rebirth the past eight-odd years since it was forced to move from its original location near the heart of the Little City — a painful part of its history that’s only been dulled by the love expressed by the community.
“Do I miss the old place?” founder and owner Anthony Yiannarakis asked rhetorically. “Yes, I do. [It was] home for 41 years.” He mentioned that there was “not much time to think,” and at first, the whole situation was “extremely disappointing.”
But as he finished up his story, he returned to the present and emphasized how happy and appreciative he was of the continued support following what was essentially a do-over.
The new Annandale location was basically “a shell” at first. Though the way the restaurant looks now, it is hard to believe that it was once just an empty space for lease.
Originally from Greece, Yiannarakis is a natural-born storyteller. He shared the long history of his business, sprinkling in anecdotes on his journey from his native Greece to Virginia.
As he talked in his measured yet friendly manner, it became clear how the restaurant stayed afloat for decades and why Anthony’s old customers followed him and his wife Faye when their business had to move.
“I appreciate [it] very much,” said Yiannarakis. “We felt the love.” And if the adage “you get what you give” is to be believed, then one can see why Anthony’s Restaurant maintains its popularity and foothold within the Falls Church area.
The large, open, minimalist layout of the restaurant is impressive. There is a lot of breathing room; there are also several tasteful decorations spread throughout — an especially attractive stand-out are the detailed murals that depicts the Greek landscape. (Faye also hails from Greece. Yiannarakis said their villages are about five miles apart.)
As spacious as it is, the restaurant is imbued with a neighborly coziness. The bar is large and beautifully arranged and in the center one can see a framed photograph of the original Anthony’s Restaurant.
“I tried to go to college in D.C.,” said Yiannarakis, “[but] my parents were in Greece so I was forced to work…to pay [my] living expenses.”
His first job was a prophetic one: he began earning money as a busboy and eventually entered into a partnership where he was co-owner of a restaurant.
This was back in the early 1960s. By 1972 Yiannarakis made the decision to go it alone. He felt that it was “better to try and open up” his own place, as opposed to “having others telling you what to do.”
The prospect of owning his own restaurant greatly motivated Yiannarakis, but he also knew from the get-go that there would be a lot of work and care involved if he was going to succeed.
A restaurant is the kind of business that requires someone to “always be present.” And indeed, for the first four years, Yiannarakis was the one who made sure to be there.
Getting the restaurant to work meant that he would have to alternate through a variety of roles, like cook, dishwasher, manager. His time as a cook in the Army was the “best school,” remarked Yiannarakis.
Presently, the menu is a combination of Greek, Italian, and American culinary staples, but even dishes like subs and BLT’s are served up with, as Yiannarakis put it, “a little Greek touch.”
Besides his engaging, amiable story-telling style, his memory was another thing that stood out. He still remembers his very first day — it was a Thursday in 1972. He only made 57 dollars, but there was something more fulfilling than money that attracted Yiannarakis to the world of food and service.
“[I liked] to talk to people, see people,” he said, sharing that seeing people get together and spend time with each other was one of his biggest reasons for getting into the business.
He recounted a variety of moments that show the kind of person he is; someone who rejoices in community, the happiness of others and meeting all kinds of people from all walks of life.
Patience was key, as well as the necessity to play different roles. As Yiannarakis put it, “Sometimes you have to be a comedian, [sometimes] a psychologist.”
The people of Falls Church responded favorably to Anthony and his family’s restaurant, which embodies that term in its truest sense. Ted and Penny are Yiannarakis’ son and daughter, with Penny talking about her experience growing up with her dad who was working to create a successful business.
“We grew up in the old location,” said Penny. She said there was a strong emotional link that the family still has to where the restaurant used to be.
At one point, Yiannarakis walked over to the photograph mentioned earlier and showed how the very first iteration of Anthony’s was only one-fourth of the original location; through the years he would add square-footage and expand the property.
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the restaurant. Yiannarakis smiled and said that they are definitely planning to commemorate the start of the business, before he demurred by adding that “you never know.”
His response reflected the cautious optimism he brings to his work and life. After enduring a year like the one brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, it has served him well. But the one thing that keeps people coming back through Anthony’s doors is his genuine interest in those having a seat at his table.