George Tselios can vividly recall the day his family’s work went up in smoke.
“It was April 24. It was windiest day of the year, that day,” he said.
A cook at Tselios’s original Copper Creek Cafe location in Granger placed a box of hot cooking oil outside behind the restaurant. Tselios said the cook thought the oil was extinguished before leaving it there, but it was still smoldering when the wind picked up and threw the box against the building.
Flames shot up the side of the structure and quickly traveled to the building’s attic.
12797 S.R. 23, Granger
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily
“Customers up front were eating and my manager went up to them and said, ‘Hey, we have a fire, and we need you to leave.’ And they were like, ‘Well, we’re almost done. Hold on,” Tselios said, laughing in disbelief as he recalled the story.
Patrons were eventually pulled from the last bites of their meals to evacuate the building and everyone lived to dine another day.
Following the extensive damage report and delays in rebuilding that original space, Tselios chose to cut his losses on that location and start anew.
“It was horrifying. Nothing could be worse than that,” he said. “That work I did was my sweat equity. You know, we didn’t have a lot of money to put that place together in the first place.”
“The customers are just so generous and I’m so happy to see this happen, because they’ve been so encouraging.”
The Glen Ellyn, Ill. native and current White Pigeon, Mich. resident spent about four months renovating Copper Creek Cafe’s new Granger location at 12797 S.R. 23 — about 200 yards west of his business’ charred origins.
The restaurant officially opened to the public Monday, May 11, and serves breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day (other than Christmas and Thanksgiving).
“Over three-quarters of my help came back,” he said. “So, that means a lot to me knowing that I was a decent boss, that those guys cared about me enough to come back.”
Staff may be familiar to returning diners, but Tselios made some noticeable adjustments to the menu and the interior of the space, which used to be home to Grill 23.
Six windows were added to the dining area, making it “more airy and light.” New light fixtures were installed, fresh tile was laid and walls came down to improve the mobility of his staff.
The restaurant is now in stark contrast to the former Grill 23’s dim, cavernous feel.
“We listen to our customers and evolve. We’re not going to just sit still and be stagnant.”
New to the Copper Creek Cafe menu are gluten-free options, including pancakes, french toast and multiple lunch sandwiches. Their inclusion came at the urging of a guest, as did a change in fruit philosophy.
“The first lady that took a bite of a frozen strawberry on a pancake said, ‘Where are the fresh strawberries?’ You know what I did? The next day, I ordered fresh strawberries and we now cut fresh strawberries every day,” Tselios said. “So, we listen to our customers and evolve. We’re not going to just sit still and be stagnant.”
With a wife, Pamela, three children, his White Pigeon eatery, The Country Table Restaurant, the amateur hockey player and restaurateur likely doesn’t sit still for long in any case.
After pausing to reflect on his restaurant’s rise from rubble for more than an hour, Tselios couldn’t help but get a little teary.
“Most importantly, I want to thank my help,” he said.
“And the customers are just so generous and I’m so happy to see this happen, because they’ve been so encouraging. They’ve been really pushing me and they wanted to see me back. They’re so happy to see me and I just hope I can keep up with them.”