Lamar Restaurant Articles

Wreck gives Lamar owner new outlook

By Jack Mazurak • • October 11, 2008

The Lamar Restaurant, a pillar of Jackson's downtown eateries, reopened following an accident that sidelined owner Chris Grillis more than two months.

Grillis, 54, wrecked his motor scooter on July 27.

Now, recovered from his injuries and 40 pounds lighter, the gregarious host, cook and chief entertainer at the Lamar Street restaurant said he's got new perspective and wants to respond more to customers. Grillis used menu items to describe the accident.

"I was in my driveway and decided I'd sandwich myself with the scooter under a car," he said. "I broke a whole side of ribs and got a concussion."

He faced two stints in the hospital and weeks of recovery at home. Nine weeks gone, in total. Neighbors, family and friends upheld the state's hospitable reputation.

Grillis' daughter sorted through the restaurant's coolers, froze what could be saved and cleaned out the rest. Employees at the Dale Danks Law Office next door held the restaurant's mail and took its deliveries.

His wife, while working full time, looked after him and his neighbors took delivery of and assembled a new scooter Grillis had ordered just before the accident.

Yeah, he plans to ride again, just with more caution.

He greets customers as friends and with a big smile tells regulars, "I'm alive," when they ask how he's doing.

He breaks into fluent Greek while speaking on the phone to relatives. He never writes down an order - not even when he's working six tables and manning the grill.

"It don't matter how much he's got on him, he's always happy-go-lucky," said Florence York, an on-again-off-again employee at the restaurant for 20 years.

She and Margaret Pierce, who worked at the Lamar for 29 years beginning in the 1960s, came in for lunch last week.

"We're glad to see him back. We come in as often as we can, and we've got all the dirt on him," Pierce said.

Grillis' parents, Emanuel and Kiki, opened the Lamar 55 years ago, one of a handful of Greek restaurants downtown. His mother ran it solo for eight years beginning in 1979 after Emanuel died. Then Chris, who'd gotten a degree at the University of Mississippi and worked at several other restaurants, came back to run it in 1987.

With it's time-worn booths, table perennially reserved for police and decorations ranging from a signed opera-singer photo to a Budweiser can airplane, the restaurant could be a sitcom set.

Regulars don't let waitress Stacey Wheatley bring them coffee. They pour it themselves. Grillis jests with customers, saying that regardless of their order, they'll get what he's serving.

Since the reopening, diners are getting more choices, though, as Grillis' brush with mortality renewed his enthusiasm.

"It's changed my attitude about the business. I want to try to please my customers more," he said. "I'm going to change up the menu and try different recipes. I've been serving Greek beans all week and broccoli, and people have liked that."