Fifty-Seven Years and Still Cooking!
By Kathleen Knowles
America loves to eat out and the people in the Blue Water Area are no exception. Over the years, restaurants have come and gone, but one has been a fixture in the city of Port Huron since 1960. It is located at the corner of Quay and Michigan and still stands today.
Two young men left their home in Manari, Greece and came to the United States in 1951 looking for a better life. Brothers, George and Tony Cavis went to work for their uncle at the Unique Grill. For the next few years they worked hard, learning and saving as much money as possible. Both of them knew they were not destined to work there forever.
Their big break came in 1960. On the corner of Michigan and Quay Streets, a High Speed Gas Station was going out of business. An opportunity to purchase the property presented itself. George and Tony did not hesitate. It was time for them to go out on their own. The decision was made and the Cavis Grill was born.
The menu in those days was very basic with few selections. Breakfast consisted of bacon and eggs with sausage, a western omelet, a ham and cheese omelet and a side of potatoes. Lunch selections were kept simple as well. Split pea soup was the special on Tuesday, bean soup was served on Wednesday and Thursdays and potato soup on Fridays. If a sandwich was more to your taste, you would find a cheese sandwich listed on the menu!
Over the years the menu has of course expanded with many items added. Today, when patrons enter the Grill for breakfast, they have a choice of seventeen omelets and fourteen specialty items!
While George and Tony were busy with the day to day running of the Cavis Grill, Catherine Vaitsos arrived in the United States and moved to Chicago, Illinois in the spring of 1961. Her uncle introduced her to George Cavis that same year. A romance quickly bloomed between them. George and Catherine were married on March 11, 1962 in the Grace Episcopal Church. Naturally she joined them in running the restaurant.
They raised two sons, Dean and Nicholas Cavis, and one daughter, Mary (Cavis) Perdikis. All three were taught work ethics early on. Nick Cavis remembers, “When I was ten years old, I could be found sitting on a milk crate washing dishes or taking cash.” Both Dean and Mary worked for their parents. Mary waited on tables as well as helping with the cooking, while Dean and Nick also cooked. Mary married Tom Perdikis and eventually moved to Toronto, Ontario. Dean also moved on. He is a commercial lender for a company in Troy, Michigan, although he still does the bookwork for the business to this day. Tony Cavis left the restaurant in the seventies and started the Cavis Pioneer Pizza Inn, located on Lapeer Road He still operates it today.
When going out to eat, people expect good food and excellent service. Cavis Grill excelled in both areas. Meals were always cooked to perfection, and the staff was efficient and friendly. It did not take long for word to get around. The Grill quickly built up a solid clientèle of devoted customers that dined regularly. To George and Catherine, the atmosphere in the restaurant was as important as the food itself. They made it a mission to talk to everyone that came in to eat. George could be seen with a coffee pot in hand, walking around, filling cups and using that pot as a prop to strike up a conversation. They knew making each and everyone that entered their establishment happy with service was as essential as serving them good food. As a result, George and Catherine built up a rapport with the patrons that frequented the restaurant.
Even today, one can walk into the Cavis Restaurant and the same people can be found sitting at the counter eating their breakfast day after day. Only now, they converse with Nick Cavis. Fifteen years ago, George decided to pass the torch to his son who ran the restaurant along with his mother. Nick took over the daily management, opening at six o’clock in the morning, while his mother closed at eight o’clock in the evening. Still, George continued to come to work each day. Nick remembers asking his father why he did not retire altogether and enjoy the sunshine in Florida. “He told me that the restaurant and the people were what made him happy.” George Cavis remained working until his death on May 18, 2011. Catherine continued to share the running of the restaurant after her husband’s death. She still enjoyed serving the customers her homemade Spanakopita (spinach pie) and Baklava.
As Catherine’s health begin to fail this past year, Nick decided to reduce the hours of service. Since she closed at eight o’clock, he had to make a decision. The restaurant business is a seven day a week operation. Nick and his wife, Maria have two small children, a one and a half year old and the other child is two and a half. He wanted to be home with them at night, so the difficult decision was made to begin closing Cavis Grill at three o’clock each day.
Catherine Cavis passed away on January 3rd of this year. She and George left behind a legacy of fifty-seven years. That legacy will continue to operate, now in the capable hands of Nick Cavis.
Nick considers himself a hands-on employee. He can be seen behind the counter cooking and conversing with the customers as his parents had done for many years. Continuing to run the restaurant with the same philosophy his parents so successfully used for fifty-seven years, he intends to build on that success.
Nick will not have to do it alone; he will have the help of his ten employees. Over the years, they have been an intricate part in the success of the business. Cavis Grill has been fortunate to not only have a family, whom have all worked at some time in the business, but also devoted employees that have been with them for years. One of them has been with them for twenty-nine years, two cooks for fifteen years each and a couple waitresses for over ten years. Not to mention that members of the Cavis family come back for the busiest days of the year including holidays to lend a hand. All of this adds up to a very successful restaurant.
What is in the future for the Cavis Grill? Nick said, “Ideas from remodeling to a total rebranding are possible.” Whatever the decision, he assures the same atmosphere and feel will most definitely remain. Customers will continue to enjoy good food and great service.
As far as Nick himself, he treasures the memory of his parents, appreciates the work ethics they taught him and embraces the challenges of the future. When asked what the experience has meant to him, he said, “It has made me a better person than what I would have been had I not done it.”
To those of you who frequent the Cavis Restaurant, nothing you have read here comes as a surprise. To those of you who do not, you are missing out. So the next time you are hungry for some breakfast or lunch, head for the corner of Quay and Michigan Streets. The food is good and the service is great. Even more importantly, you will not just be a customer; you will be a member of the Cavis Grill family, for that is what you will be considered and how you will be treated.
Kathleen Knowles is a life-long resident of Port Huron and a 1973 graduate of Port Huron High School. After attending St. Clair County Community College, she has worked for credit unions all of her life as well as a professional dog show handler, known for handling Pekingese. Kathleen has been writing fiction for years as a hobby, having posted many stories online.
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Visit the Cavis Grill Facebook page to see a wide array of photos of their many menu options.
Disclaimer: Blue Water Healthy Living is an online magazine located in Port Huron, Michigan. Our purpose is to promote healthy living by showcasing the Blue Water Area, its people, issues and surroundings. This online magazine is devoted to providing healthy living related stories, local happenings, and commentary. Often inspiring and uplifting, our stories come from our heart and soul to promote the enjoyment of a more fulfilling Blue Water Area lifestyle. The material on this web site is provided for informational and amusement purposes only and is not to be confused with any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The views and opinions expressed do not necessary reflect the opinions and values of Blue Water Healthy Living.