CLEARWATER — For Angie Chaconas, it was all the laid-off waitresses who kept coming into her restaurant looking for work. That's what made her do it.
Chaconas, 74, has run Angie's Restaurant in downtown Clearwater for more than 35 years. It's a local institution. She also owns a strip mall on Drew Street where a storefront recently became vacant. A few people expressed interest in opening a little snack shop there.
"Finally, I said, 'What's wrong with us? Why don't we open it?' " Chaconas recalls. "Hey, let's go for it."
And that's how the Chaconas family opened up a second location last week. Called Angie's Grill, it has the same menu, same prices and same home-style cooking as the original.
The original Angie's Restaurant, at Cleveland Street and Myrtle Avenue, is the kind of place where the regulars roll in every day and order the $5.95 hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and a roll. "The waitress has their coffee ready before they hit the door — at the stool they like," Chaconas said.
Chaconas, who grew up hungry in Greece during World War II, is also known for feeding the homeless at her restaurant each Thanksgiving.
"My stomach was never full," she said of her childhood. "My mother would say, 'Lay on your tummy and hold your stomach and you won't feel as hungry.' We could see my mother turn away and cry."
That's why she ended up owning restaurants. Her new venture, Angie's Grill, is essentially a carbon copy of her first one.
"There's a need for a homemade soup and sandwich at a reasonable price for the working person," she said, perched in one of the new restaurant's four booths and pondering where to hang up some pictures. "This Thanksgiving, I will definitely feed the hungry here."
Angie's Grill is on a working-class stretch of Drew Street a few blocks west of Keene Road. It's surrounded by small businesses whose employees are already starting to frequent the diner.
Strategically, Chaconas and her family figured there wasn't another breakfast place located between the original Angie's and the Farmer Boy restaurant, which is on Drew Street about a mile east of the new Angie's.
But it was all the out-of-work waitresses who got Chaconas to take the leap.
"There's not a day they don't come in asking for work," she said. "They say, 'I've been looking for six months and I don't have a job.' It pushed my button."
Chaconas has a head of gray hair. She'll be 75 soon. She fought off cancer with chemotherapy over the past year.
But she feels good now. She's got her energy back. She works hard.
America is the land of opportunity, she says. She has given Angie's Restaurant to her son Louis. But she has three children and eight grandchildren.
"I'm just going to build it up," she said of Angie's Grill. "It'll be for my kids — my children and grandchildren."
"Maybe I'll open another one."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.