Few local businesses have lasted as long—or engendered as much fond sentiment—as Angelo’s, the family diner around which U-M’s medical campus has grown.
Word came in May that the university is buying the site, helping second-generation owner Steve Vangelatos honor a pledge to his wife Jennifer to wind down at age sixty-five. Since then, shows of affection have been broad and deep, from the sale of thousands of Angelo’s T-shirts (proceeds benefiting Mott’s Children’s Hospital) to a tribute from Detroit Free Press sports columnist Shawn Windsor, recalling that his experience as a cook there meant “everything” to him.
Many a customer has waited in line along Catherine St. for omelets, corned beef hash, and the raisin toast Vangelatos still prepares fresh each morning using his rugged sixty-quart mixer. “My dad stood next to it for a lot of years,” he says. “It’s never let me down. It’s never not worked.”
The same could be said for Vangelatos. The restaurant has been his only job, and he still bakes 150 to 300 loaves seven days a week, despite carpal tunnel syndrome and two knee replacements, each timed to the restaurant’s annual two-week July break. “I’ve literally never had a weekend off, except when this place is closed, since I can remember,” he says.
With time winding down on the iconic breakfast and lunch destination, “this is probably gonna be my best year sales-wise, ever,” Vangelatos says. December 23 is his last day. The $4.5 million sale will close early in 2024, allowing him to “go out on my terms.”
He credits his father’s foresight to buy the real estate as a major ingredient in their success. Immigrating from Greece in 1951, merchant sailor Angelo Vangelatos didn’t speak English when he arrived in Ann Arbor and started washing dishes at a Chicken in the Rough franchise on S. Main, where owner George Curtis proved a good mentor. Angelo married Patricia Verames in 1954 and within two years managed to buy the luncheonette, already named Angelo’s, from Angelo and Nitsa Mallis, who then launched Mallis’s Coffee Cup at Liberty and Fourth Ave. downtown (subsequently the Cloverleaf, that spot is slated to become a Dunkin’ Donuts).
“He [Mallis] thought he’d pulled one over on my dad” by unloading a spot in what was largely a residential neighborhood, Vangelatos relates. The lack of nearby competition proved fortuitous.
Their mom-and-pop operation, open daily through dinnertime, gained traction when Angelo began baking his own white bread, later adding raisins to the recipe, and then using it for French toast. Pat handled the front of the house without need of tickets, simply asking guests at the register what they’d eaten. The current rear sunroom was then a shed with a few booths for diners. “We’d walk them through the kitchen past the dishwasher. Back then you could get away with stuff like that,” Vangelatos says.
In 1986, Steve took over the place that “really hops,” as immortalized in the lyrics of “Angelo’s,” Dick Siegel’s Gershwin-esque jazz tribute to the diner. Expansion of the building and the menu ensued, with many family members and longtime employees playing key parts, including brother-in-law Jack Juback, instrumental in the Angelo’s on the Side coffee shop and carryout, which opened next door in 1992.
“I put a lot of love and sweat and tears in this place—sacrifice,” Vangelatos says with a wistful sort of pride. “Restaurants are run differently nowadays, by people that are a lot smarter than I am. They probably know a lot more about restaurants than I do. I just know what I learned from my dad.”
Angelo’s, 1100 Catherine St. (734) 663–7222. Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–3 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.–2 p.m. Closing Dec. 23. angelosa2.com