michael's bar & grill in franz park photo by danny hommes

Michael's Bar & Grill is a St. Louis landmark

For Katina Malliotakis, one of the greatest sources of happiness in life is simply looking around her Franz Park restaurant, seeing people eating and drinking, laughing and enjoying themselves. “I love it,” she said. “I couldn’t do anything else. I love being around people. I’m Greek – it makes us happy to see you and entertain you.”

Malliotakis has seen three generations grow up in this place, and she’s grown up here with them. The restaurant has been part of her life since she was only 12 years old, when her father, Michael Malliotakis, brought his dream of owning a restaurant to life. Katina has been working at Michael’s since the age of 16, when she started doing payroll and other administrative tasks. “I say this all the time, but it’s like Hotel California – everybody comes and nobody leaves,” she laughed. “I showed up one day, and I never left.”

original owner of michael's bar & grill, michael malliotakis // photo by danny hommes

Today’s restaurant is a far cry from the small, neighborhood biker bar Michael Malliotakis took over in the late 1970s. Michael’s Place, as it was originally called, was half the size of the current restaurant, with space for around 70 customers. Michael ran it as a bar for a few years before turning it into a restaurant. He had ambitions for his restaurant, but he was also pragmatic. “He wanted to change the atmosphere for sure,” Katina said. “He was hoping to start it as a casual place, and then slowly move it upscale – but it didn’t, it stayed as a casual place.”

Michael grew up on the island of Rhodes before moving to the United States in his twenties. Today, Michael’s is consciously and proudly a Greek-American restaurant, with some of the menu’s biggest sellers including pastitio, moussaka, gyros and gyro salads, alongside its burgers, lamb shanks and steaks. But in the early years, the emphasis leaned heavily on the American part of that identity. “At that time, he didn’t want to be just labeled as a Greek restaurant,” Katina said. “It wasn’t until we were established, maybe about 10 years later, he started introducing Greek food.” New dishes were only added once Michael had perfected them to his satisfaction. “The way he taught us to be consistent, the way the kitchen is run, has made the place so successful,” Katina said.

the burger at michael's bar & grill // photo by danny hommes

By the 1990s, Michael’s was a neighborhood institution in Franz Park. The restaurant was remodeled, expanded to its current capacity of around 250 diners, and renamed Michael’s Bar & Grill. Although Michael remained involved in the restaurant until only a few months before he passed away in January 2021, successive strokes in 2008 and 2015 meant that he had long since entrusted Katina with day-to-day operations. Even as a teenager, she had often paused to reflect on how much she had to learn, how ready she was to step into her father’s shoes should anything happen to him. The long apprenticeship served Katina well. “People say, ‘You’re just like your father,’” she said. “And I’m like, ‘Thank you, I’ll take that.’”

Of course, the restaurant has always been a huge part of Katina’s life, but she didn’t always realize that Michael’s might have a similar place in other people’s hearts. “There are so many restaurants,” she said. “I used to think, ‘Well, they can go anywhere, but why here?’ I didn’t really know.”

The answer became clear to her during the pandemic. “When lockdown happened, the people who showed up to make sure that we survived, I couldn't believe the things they were saying,” Katina said. “I knew how I felt, but I didn't realize that that's how they felt with us. That it was like home; there were memories, generations of people coming there.” People would tell her, “We need you, I grew up here, I grew up in this place.” Michael’s is home to Katina, just as it was to her father. But to its customers, it’s also a kind of home. “That is the biggest compliment that as a restaurant owner you can receive,” Katina said.

7101 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.644.2240, michaelsstl.com