Flashback: It takes a ‘Louis Restaurant’ to feed a village

Pitsa and son Dinos Pavlounis pose at Louis' Restaurant. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

CHESTERVILLE — Members of the Pavlounis family have cooked up tons of delicious food and served multitudes of patrons since taking over the eatery at the corner of King and Water streets 42 years ago.

They renamed the former Milano Restaurant after new proprietor Elias ‘Louis’ Pavlounis, a Greek immigrant who had arrived in Canada with just $20 in his pocket years earlier. He and wife Pitsa, also from Greece, and their two Canadian-born children took up residence in Chesterville six months after Louis’ opened — moving into an apartment above the establishment. The living quarters were nothing strange to the family: The Pavlounises came to Chesterville by way of Winchester, where they occupied a similar dwelling over the Country Kitchen Restaurant; Louis and his brother-in-law had owned that business together for several years after purchasing it from the Docksteader brothers.

The Chesterville restaurant still draws its loyal regulars, but things have changed with the times as well, observes owner Dinos Pavlounis, seated beside his mother at the Chesterville establishment.

“Back in the day … you knew everybody by name that came into the restaurant,” he says, contrasting yesterday’s scene with today’s equally welcome influx of new diners.

“There are a lot of different faces now,” adds Pitsa, who arrived in Canada when she was just 18 and met her late husband in this country. (Elias passed away in 2015). She continues to work in the restaurant.

They attribute some of today’s revolving traffic to the Garden Villa Retirement Residence, which draws visitors from further afield.

Dinos and his older sister, Dina, grew up working and helping out in the restaurant, and as Chesterville Public School students often went home to Louis’ for lunch — only to find themselves in competition with the noon-hour rush. The crowd back then included workers from the Nestlé plant, then teeming with employees.

“We would throw a burger on, and I think we probably got the fifth or sixth burger because the first, second, third and fourth went out to the customers,” laughs Dinos, who remembers learning to operate the cash register at age 10. The skill came in handy at school bake sales because “we always got to skip class to run the cash,” he says.

After more than two decades of residence in Greece, Dina, a teacher, and her twin daughters — now in their final year at North Dundas District High School — have returned to Chesterville. The Pavlounises live together in the former United Church manse behind the restaurant, which they acquired and turned into their family home several years ago.

Louis’ originally opened with Greek and higher-end items on the menu but quickly shifted to the more common fare demanded by the local marketplace. However, the proprietors have since added some Greek dishes, and Dinos credits Ottawa’s Greek Festival for creating a local taste for souvlaki, chicken on pizza, Greek salad and other foods from his family’s ancestral homeland.

The Pavlounises also put their culinary skills to work developing their own pizza — one of their most popular items — which won a best pizza contest in Morewood a few years ago. It’s a point of pride for Dinos, as he perfected the crust to go with his father’s special sauce recipe.

The establishment’s long history shapes the way the place is today. When asked why they’re closed on Monday evenings, Dinos traces it back to the time when all of Chesterville was closed that day, except for the bank, post office and butcher.

There are highlights after being in business so long, and Dinos counts the unexpected visit by the President of Madagascar as one of them. The head of state for the African nation lunched at Louis after checking out grain-handling equipment in the area, including the set-up at the Vanden Bosch farm outside the village.

The Ice Storm of 1998 was another period they won’t ever forget, in terms of sheer time and effort. The Pavlounises fed not only patrons coming through the front door but also donated prepared food to staging areas and schools through the back door — in concert with the local Rotary Club that picked up and delivered it, according to Dinos.

“We donated food to the soldiers,” Pitsa proudly says.

“We were working nearly 22 hours a day,” her son recalls. “I don’t want to see it again. Even though we’re prepared with a generator today, I still wouldn’t want to see it.”

Retro video footage below: Eric Duncan, then mayor of North Dundas, cuts the cake on the morning of the 40th anniversary at Louis’ Restaurant in June 2018, posing with longtime former employee Debbie Chambers and proprietors Dinos and Pitsa Pavlounis (as seen right to left in the thumbnail image accompanying this video. The group also appears in the first few seconds of the footage.) Chambers worked for Louis’ from the day the establishment opened, up until three years ago.

 
Longtime patrons John and Beate Stewart have enjoyed the establishment for more than two decades.  “We’ve been going to Louis’ Restaurant for our daily morning coffee club and a few times a week for supper and coffee with friends for 23 years now,” say the Dunbar couple.

“The food is always fresh and delicious, with generous portions too. We really enjoy the chicken parmesan and the pizza’s, they’ll surely be your new favorites with just one bite. Staff are also really friendly and make you feel like you’re a part of Dinos’ family.”

“Louis is a hidden gem, well known to locals for the delicious, authentic Greek food,” says North Dundas Mayor Tony Fraser, who grew up in Chesterville. “My wife and I thoroughly enjoy going to Louis’. Another signature item is their pizza;  I highly recommend the Louis’ Special.”

Chesterville resident Betty Vanden Bosch enthuses over the “amazing” breakfasts at the establishment, “especially the poached eggs with bacon.” Adds Vanden Bosch, “I’ve lived in the area since 1965, and Louis’ has always been a community meeting spot to catch up with old friends and meet new people. The service has been fast and friendly since the first day we became regulars.”

Though it won’t be as major a renovation as the work done at the place 18 years ago, the proprietors say that patrons can look forward to a planned refresh of the restaurant interior sometime in the near future.

 

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the township’s 2020 Explore North Dundas Spring/Summer Resource Guide. The involved interview took place in February 2020. The 2021 edition of Explore North Dundas is set for release later this spring.

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