Over the past 30 years, the consistency of the menu has drawn loyal patrons. “People don’t want too much change with this place, especially on the menu.” – Kostas Callis
The seemingly modest exterior of Auburn Café comes to life at the door. The restaurant’s Greek identity is evident in its décor, with murals encapsulated by columns decorating the walls and Greek music pacing in the background. It’s a comfortable mix of cultural heritage, from the smells wafting from the kitchen stove to the chatter of the wait staff, and modernity, with TVs broadcasting the news in several locations across the restaurant. This is a space where patrons can linger.
“The original place was about three doors down,” explains Kostas Callis, owner of Auburn Café and son of its founder, Serafim (Sam) Callis. When Sam purchased what was then known as Auburn Bar in 1981, he began introducing some Greek food that his wife, Antigone, prepared daily. “It was never his intention of turning it into a restaurant,” Kostas says, “but a few people had come in asking for food beyond burgers.” Since the family lived upstairs, he adds, Sam asked Antigone to bring down the food she had cooked for the family, which patrons “absolutely loved.”
The menu at the time was fresh and simple. “Dad would take a head of lettuce and chop it right there on the spot for you,” Kostas says. Lamb chops, shish kabob, pork chops, steak, and hamburgers were the original staples, and over time the family added grape leaves, meatballs, flaming cheese, and soup. The eventual addition of chicken salads, gyros, and salad variations of popular meals has made the menu what it is today.
Over the past 30 years, the consistency of the menu has drawn loyal patrons. “People don’t want too much change with this place, especially on the menu,” Kostas says. “It’s hard to get people to try new stuff here; they only come in here for one or two menu items. Once they see the menu, they don’t ask for it again.”
Kostas ensures that the freshness of his father’s food also remains consistent. “Most of our deliveries are from Eastern Market and are some of the same vendors [that my father used]. That’s part of the reason the food’s so consistent.” During his adolescence, Kostas learned from Sam what to look for in produce and meat as well as how to negotiate a price.
They are skills that Kostas is using now that he’s at the helm, though his management of Auburn Café is somewhat unexpected. Only after college and professional work in finance, including Morgan Stanley, MetLife Insurance, and U.S. Steel, did he return to the restaurant. As Sam began limiting his role, Kostas took over, updating the computer system and initiating advertising campaigns along the way.
Now, over 15 years since he began managing the operation, the Auburn Café reflects Kostas’s changes while maintaining the quality food and comfortable atmosphere that made a small Ecorse restaurant a dinner destination across Downriver more than three decades ago. Aside from the addition of younger faces, the patrons haven’t changed much since that time. They come from as far as Grosse Ile, and their actions speak for them: when they sit down and order their regular – no menu, of course – they attest that it’s worth the drive.
Auburn Café is located at 3520 W. Jefferson Ave., Ecorse. Please call 313-381-8133 or visit theauburncafe.com to learn more.