By Amy Holditch
Photos by Lindsey Culver
There are some places that just feel like home, no matter how much time you spend away. Demetri’s, in the same spot on 28th Avenue South since 1973, is one of them. You can see its history in the numerous photos posted throughout the establishment and in many customers, who have been regulars for 30 or more years, as they pat each other on the back as they head to their favorite table. You can see it in the staff and how much they admire each other. If you step outside anywhere in downtown Homewood, chances are the smell of barbecue will waft through the air and entice you to head that way for lunch. This place is so steeped in family history that Gov. Kay Ivey recently recognized the business as the oldest restaurant in Homewood that has been continuously operated by the same family.
Sam Nakos, named after Uncle Sam, has been running the joint solo since his father, Demetri, passed in 2002. With COVID regulations lifted and restaurants getting busier and busier, Demetri’s is coming in strong, he says. When COVID struck in March 2020 and forced many local businesses into survival mode, Sam and his crew made the best of a bad situation and started a renovation that had been long planned but hard to schedule because the restaurant is always packed full, with little downtime. “Believe it or not, COVID affected us in a good way,” Sam says. “We did a major renovation that includes a new patio area, a larger kitchen with added workspace and skylights. It was three-and-a-half months of hard, hard work.” And now customers who hadn’t been around as much during the pandemic are returning to see it too. “One of my proudest moments ever happened recently when we reopened with our brand new kitchen and saw some of our dearest guests come back,” Sam notes.
Up until the recent renovation, the interior had remained mostly unchanged since the early 1970s, when Homewood firefighters built Demetri’s BBQ pit and a restaurant around it. It has been a Homewood staple ever since, and locals would be hard-pressed to find a restaurant with the loyalty and reputation that Demetri’s has cultivated throughout its six decades in business. In fact, Demetri’s earned a place in the new Alabama Barbecue Hall of Fame several years ago, along with other local barbecue restaurants. For those not savvy in barbecue speak: sauce and meat styles are regional. Demetri’s and other Birmingham-area legends make variations on this barbecue sauce—zesty, tomato-based and with vinegar. According to the experts, this sauce characterizes the Birmingham style.
“My dad used to feed all of City Hall, the firemen, the police, you name it—he fed them,” Sam recalls. “We were Oakland ‘on the curve’ in Homewood in the 1950s, with El Rancho just around the corner in the 1960s and Demetri’s after that. People would knock asking if he served breakfast, so he started cooking eggs for them. He was there, cooking, 10 hours a day, so why not?”
Sixty years later, Demetri’s is still known for that breakfast. From pancakes to French toast to hash browns to biscuits to Sam’s omelet—this is THE place for an old school, classic breakfast that will fill you up without breaking the bank. The parking lot is packed every morning, with a steady stream pouring in and out for the best breakfast in town. Then, at 11 a.m., customers begin the lunchtime march until around 2.
“My favorite thing about working at Demetri’s is without a doubt our guests,” says front of the house manager and longtime employee Rita Kalariotes. “We have so many wonderful guests that come in each day, some up to three times a day, even if just for a refill on tea. You get to know them, and when they have children and their children have children, you get to be there for that tradition of coming to Demetri’s.
“I have been blessed with the opportunity to work for Sam for 18 years,” she continues. “It has been a very rewarding experience for me. Every day he teaches me something new. He has a very kind manner as to how he teaches us. Sometimes he will patiently let us make mistakes to learn, which is an important training method in some areas.”
Rita went on to say more about Sam’s leadership of the operation and how he shares his experience and wisdom with others in a way that allows his staff to grow. “Part of running a very successful business is how you handle your staff,” she says. “Sam is very good about balancing his business as well as being attentive to his staff’s needs, and helping them reach their goals. It is amazing to be in an environment that is always moving forward. By this, I mean, Sam has a keen eye for knowing when we need to add new menu items (like when we started adding fresh veggies many years ago), or when we need to remodel, etc.”
But, with eating habits changing and new restaurants popping up everywhere, Sam knows he has to keep up. “We’ve added Sunday brunch with beer, wine and mimosas to attract new customers and have been successful so far,” he says. “We are blessed that we have the best staff ever plus our same regulars, plus many more new customers,” he said. “Our brunch crowd is growing every week, and we hope to see many more positive turnouts. We are earning the business and are very pleased.”