It is a bit unorthodox — a Greek family specializing in Italian food and running a restaurant named after a Las Vegas hotel. Still, the Flamingo Restaurant has become a west Edmonton staple.
Steve Tsoukalas started the Flamingo in Centennial Mall in 1977. It expanded to its current location at 87 Avenue and 159 Street the following year.
Now, after four decades, the beloved business is closing. The family says the City of Edmonton is to blame.
“They just sent a letter to our lawyer saying you have to be out by Dec. 12,” Tsoukalas told Global News.
The Valley Line West LRT expansion is set to roll right across from the blue and pink striped awning that marks the restaurant.
According to the family, the city needs to expropriate about 30 feet of land to widen for the construction project. That equates to the entire kitchen and half the dining room.
The family has decided not to re-open in another location.
“It’s hard to start over,” Tsoukalas said sadly.
Most of the Tsoukalas family has spent time washing dishes, cooking pizzas or serving up meals at the Flamingo.
That includes Laki Tsoukalas, who now helps run the place.
“When the people come in they see a lot of the same staff that we’ve had. Our serving staff — so many of us have been here for such a long time. And they’re such a big part of the place and they’re friends with everybody coming in,” said Laki.
One staff member has been with the Flamingo for 30 years. Another for 20.
Kailey Dunlop first started as a hostess after her grandmother, a longtime customer, got her the job.
“Obviously I’m losing a job out of it too and I’m losing very many friends and a family to an extent. And all of my customers that I like to talk to every day,” Dunlop said.
The Tsoukalas’ said they worry about the staff. The family is unsure of how much compensation they’ll get from the city and they know they won’t be able to help their employees find new jobs.
“You build up those years of goodwill, it’s hard to quantify that. And so I don’t feel as though we will get as much as we feel it’s worth or what it might be worth to the community here,” explained Laki.
Those that fill the brass-lined booths in the mirrored dining room say they’ll miss the pizza, steak sandwiches and cheesy lasagna, but it’s the sense of community they’ll miss most.
“There’s no music blaring so you can talk and listen, everything else,” said longtime customer Gerry Magnan.
One customer stopped by for pizza before the birth of each of his children — a tradition that will no longer be possible.
Staff members have seen customers go from pushing their children into the restaurant in strollers to seeing those children pushing their parents in wheelchairs.
“The food is always consistent. You know if you’re coming here, you’re going to get a good meal,” Sylvia Magnan said about why she continues to return.
Preliminary construction has already started on 87 Avenue.
“The City of Edmonton works to minimize property impacts as much as we can, but we do need some properties or, as in this case, portions of properties to accommodate the construction of the Valley Line West LRT Extension,” a city spokesperson said in an email to Global News.
The full 14-kilometre expansion is expected to take five to six years to complete.
With the end fast approaching, Steve could only describe the next few weeks as “hard.”
The Flamingo Restaurant will close November 30.