by Blake Herzog
Pete Koulouris, owner of Mount Athos Greek Restaurant & Cafe in Florence, said he knew he wanted to keep at least a few of his employees on the payroll, somehow, after Arizona’s restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
“I figured to keep the people employed, I’m gonna call my (food wholesaler) Sysco rep to see what he could do to get me hot dogs, fries, and mayo, ketchup, mustard and relish packets. So we started a program where we were giving out free hot dogs to kids,” he told Golden Corridor LIVING.
Hot dogs have never been on the menu since Mount Athos opened 15 years ago, but Koulouris ended up buying 2,000 all-beef franks, plus the sides and condiments, and put some of his staff to work fixing and distributing free lunches to cheer up families trying to navigate the new normal.
“So if that’s the only break those kids are getting that are going through a hard time, that their parents or guardian or whoever drives them around and gives them a little hot dog, then God bless it, you know? It’s all about spreading positivity as much as we can,” Koulouris said.
He said families are invited to drive up to the parking lot of the restaurant at 444 N. Pinal Parkway Monday through Friday for free lunches, “until we run out of hot dogs and money.” Call 520-868-0735 for more information.
The restaurant began handing the lunches to kids and parents through car windows at the end of March, giving out close to 500 hot dogs out to the community. After Gov. Doug Ducey added more business closures to his prior stay-at-home order on April 3, Koulouris sought advice from Town of Florence officials and decided to pause the program in consideration of social-distancing requirements.
By May 1, some donations had come in from the community to extend the hot dog program, and regulations had eased to the point he felt comfortable restarting it.
“(The children) are always very grateful, roll down their windows and say thank you with a big smile on their face. That’s the most important thing,” he said.
He said he also sometimes picks up clues that the families inside the car are worried or suffering.
“Some of the cars that go by, just the moms wanting to get out of the house with one of her kids. You have other cars that come by, these guys seem … you can kind of get a hint of something that they’re going through a hard time,” he said.
A few people pick up the hot dogs without their kids in the car to take home to them, and on a few occasions he’s given them to grownups, too.
“I like to get a feel for it and kind of pick it out. Most people, they don’t want one, they want to leave it for the kids. But if someone’s hungry, I’m not going to let them go hungry. That’s not what I went into the restaurant business for,” Koulouris said.
Mount Athos also reopened May 11 for dine-in service from the regular menu, which includes gyros, burgers, salads and more Greek, Italian and American favorites. The restaurant’s menu is available at www.mountathoscafe.com.
Photo: Owner Pete Koulouris hands out a free hot dog lunch for a child in the parking lot of Mt. Athos Restaurant and Cafe in Florence.