Every time I drive along Watertown Plank Road in downtown Elm Grove, I ask myself the same question: Who is Penelope of Penelope's Restaurant?
The restaurant serves as the anchor of the Park & Shop strip mall at 13425 Watertown Plank Road. As I've been asking people for directions these past few months I've often heard, "You know where Penelope's is, right?" It's a landmark in the village.
Last week, I finally had the opportunity to sit down with Penelope.
"People still have a hard time saying (the name)," Penelope Demakopoulos said. "They can't say the name. Some people never heard it (before)."
Penelope and her husband, Louis Demakopoulos, have owned and operated the Elm Grove restaurant for nine years, first opening in March 2001.
"I can't believe it's been nine years - it went so fast," Penelope said. "I didn't know how far it would go."
Born to the business
Penelope and Louis have never been strangers to the restaurant business. In fact, you could say it's in their blood.
The two grew up in the same village, Deka, in Greece. Both their fathers owned coffee shops, not too far away from each other.
Louis came to Wisconsin first, then Penelope came and they were married. Before their current venture, the couple owned Zorba's at Bluemound and Barker roads in Brookfield for 33 years.
About the same time, Penelope began to experience the empty-nest feeling.
"My girls went to college, and after six months, I couldn't stand it," she said. "So I said to my husband, 'Let's open a small coffee shop to pass our time.' "
It took eight months to renovate the space from the drug store it used to be, but the business has been going strong since.
"We're happy," she said. "It's a pleasant atmosphere for my husband, and I have to come to work every day."
Penelope said their customers have become a part of their family. They have seen couples go from dating to having three or four kids.
"Sometimes they make you cry, sometimes they make you laugh as they share their stories or problems," she said.
The Demakopouloses have their family members in mind given the current economy. They have lowered some of their prices and have specials each day. There also are heart-healthy options on the menu - just look for the little heart symbol to find them.
The menu features Greek cuisine, but the restaurant also serves up American favorites like hamburgers. And the breakfast, I've been told many times, is most excellent. Local churchgoers apparently feel the same way.
"Wonderful families come after church," Penelope said. "It reminds me of when I went to church with my girls."
The restaurant also serves as a gathering spot for neighbors. Penelope calls it a second home for them.
"To me, I went from one village to another," she said. "I grew up in a close-knit community and I now live in another one. … It's a strong, close community. I admire that."
Now as I drive through this community, I know who Penelope is and I'll smile when I think of her.
THE SCENE: Penelope's Restaurant, 13425 Watertown Plank Road
WHAT YOU'LL FIND: breakfast, lunch and dinner
NOW SERVING: 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday.Julie Ann Marra is uncovering the heart of Elm Grove, its people and places. Call her at (262) 446-6634 or e-mail email@example.com.
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