DUNEDIN — The doors are closing permanently on a family’s legacy, the last of a trio of diner-style restaurants spanning three generations of the Drulias family in Clearwater and Dunedin.
Despite the closure, business remained brisk at lunchtime on Monday as Chatterbox Family restaurant owner Billy Drulias, 59, positioned balloons for pictures to commemorate the restaurant’s 48th year as family and friends finished slices of cake and shared memories.
Drulias choked back tears while customers offered handshakes and hugs to him and his mother, 89-year-old Katy Drulias, before closing out final checks for customers after serving up scores of homestyle meals.
The restaurant is the last of three of the family restaurants — the Bay Drive In in Clearwater, Pete’s Restaurant in Clearwater and the Chatterbox Family Restaurant in Dunedin — a legacy which was started by his great uncle Gus Drulias, who came to to the United States from Greece.
“He emigrated from Greece, lived in Chicago, found his way to Clearwater and opened up a restaurant.” Drulias said. “It was something in his blood.”
That first restaurant, the Bay Drive In, quickly became a landmark in Clearwater amidst the drive in restaurant craze of the 1940s and 1950s. Drulias said customers lined up around the corner for $1 all-you-can eat fried fish special. The drive in was closed in 1968 to accommodate parking for the adjacent Clearwater Maas Brothers.
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In 1969, his parents, Pete and Katy Drulias, opened Pete’s Restaurant in Clearwater and in 1974 the Chatterbox Family Restaurant was started at Dunedin Lanes off Patricia Avenue in Dunedin.
Dave Kremske, 84, and his wife, Layla Kremske, 82, of Dunedin, came to the Chatterbox on Monday to enjoy a lunch together during the restaurant’s final day. Layla said she had become familiar with the restaurant during four decades of taking lunch breaks at the Chatterbox while attending bowling leagues.
Next to the Kremskes, Russell Minier, 81, and his wife Hazel Minier, 81, of Dunedin, were stunned to find out they were being served their last meal there and offered hugs to Katy Drulias on their way out.
“I’m happy for them and sad for us,” Russell Minier said. “Billy made us feel happy, we’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
As the lunch crowd diminished, Billy took a moment to reflect on this tenure at the diner, which often included 60-70 hour weeks.
“I‘m very emotional, this has been my livelihood,” Drulias said. “Its been good to me. I’ve been able to put my kids through college, but it’s time to move on.”
Drulias said he feels healthy, and may travel more, and might even go back to school.
“It’s been my one regret, not finishing college,” Drulias said.