The restaurant business is rife with trends.
One year it’s burgers. The next it’s wings. Then it’s gourmet pizza.
In West Hartford, there is no shortage of eateries looking to catch lightning in a bottle by tapping into the latest culinary craze.
For 23 years, Effie’s Place, located at 91 Park Road, has blissfully remained trend-free.
Indeed, in a recent interview, owner Johnny Paindiris reflected on how the restaurant has become one of the stalwart businesses on Park Road at a time when others - notably Bazillions and, more recently, The Prospect Cafe - have closed their doors for good.
And Effie’s has done it by simply being what it is: West Hartford’s version of a diner, according to Paindiris.
“What we’ve done here is we don’t try to chase customers,” Paindiris said sitting in the homey dining room of Effie’s. “We don’t go after what’s the latest and greatest trend. We offer good comfort food that people eat every day.”
Which isn’t to say that Effie’s has a menu etched in stone. Quite the contrary, if a regular wants baked scrod, at some point, that will be a special added to the homemade soups, desserts, egg salad, liver and onions and turkey sandwiches and other popular items, according to Paindiris.
It’s that flexibility that makes Effie’s a popular choice for virtually everyone. That’s not hyperbole. At any moment on any given day, one can walk into Effie’s and see college kids eating alongside young families, who are alongside seniors who are alongside state representatives and senators cutting deals.
“We’re not the cheapest, but there is value here,” Paindiris said.
Paindiris said that there are some people who go to the restaurant for three meals a day.
“We’ve stood the test of time,” Paindiris said. “Through good economies, bad economies. We started in a bad economy in 1990. Then came the tech bubble in 2001.”
Then came the economic downturn in 2008/09, which sank a lot of businesses. The turning point, Paindiris said, was the October 2011 snowstorm that knocked out power in the area. Effie’s was one of the few places that did not close.
The lines went out the door, Paindiris said, and Effie’s also provided hundreds of meals for the town’s shelter. Paindiris said he kept his overworked staff happy and motivated by joking around.
The end result is that a whole new market of customers was introduced to Effie’s Place.
It’s hard to imagine anyone in town not knowing about Effie’s, which was originally opened by Charles and Effie Paindiris, Johnny’s parents, in 1990.
Charles and Effie ran Concord Luncheon on the corner of Prospect and Farmington for 50 years. They opened Effie’s as a second location, with the name serving to let people know that nothing changed between the eateries.
“Effie is like West Hartford’s version of Oprah,” quipped Johnny Paindiris, who took over the restaurant in the late 1990s. “Everybody knows Effie.”
And she still works in the kitchen, making homemade muffins, Johnny said.
And the sense of family extends to the staff as well, Johnny said, noting that he has some servers who have been with him for 16 to 18 years. During the recent recession, Johnny said he did not lay off anyone, working with his employees to help cover losses in income.
Rob Rowlson, the town’s former director of community services, said in a telephone interview that Effie’s Place’s success lies in the family approach.
“They treat their business as a part of the family,” Rowlson said. “There are so many different groups of people who go to the restaurant. You have an elderly group; then on the weekends you get a younger crowd from the colleges. Then you get the town’s movers and shakers.
“More deals and more business [gets done at Effie’s] than any other restaurant that I’m aware of. [Johnny Paindiris] has got a broad spectrum.”
Which may be the case, but it always boils down to the product that you’re serving.
“Good food and the service” is why patron Dudley Watkins said he goes to Effie’s virtually every day for an omelet. “There’s no real magic."Effie’s Place is open seven days a week: Monday - Wednesday 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday - Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.