EDGEWATER — A lot of things have changed in Edgewater over the last 35 years, but throughout that time, Patio Beef has remained virtually the same.
"They're a neighborhood institution," Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said. "They're just great people. The community, young and old alike, every background in our wonderful diverse community enjoys Patio Beef."
The family-run diner has been headed by Greek-American Leo Diantzikis since he took over the 6022 N. Broadway spot in 1982.
Dianzikis first came to Chicago from Greece in 1968 and quickly began working his way up in the local restaurant scene.
First, he bussed tables at the former Brown Bear Restaurant on Clark Street, then later worked as a bartender and doughnut preparer before taking over the young Patio Beef from its original owner.
Now for at least the last 20 years, his wife Soula has joined him, followed by daughters Maria and Teri, in slinging out lunch and dinner plates filled with juicy Italian beef, Vienna Beef hot dogs, authentic gyros, burgers, chicken sandwiches and thick 21-ounce milkshakes.
On Friday, the restaurant is donating 10 percent of its sales to nearby Swift Elementary School.
"It's the best burger around," said Joe Coatar, a customer since 1994. "There aren't that many good burger restaurants in Edgewater, Patio Beef is definitely the best."
Surrounded by new developments like Whole Foods, the Edgewater Library and Edge of Sweetness cafe, Patio Beef stands out as a colorful homage to the classic American grease joint.
Patio Beef, 6022 N. Brodway in Edgewater. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
And while Dianzikis said he's seen the neighborhood change over the last several decades — "always for the better," he said — staying consistent has worked best for him.
"I like how things are going, I don't want to change too much," he said. "I've been here for 35 years and haven't changed much, so I think it works."
For generations, Dianzikis said he's watched his customers grow up and have their own children, kids who have become patrons themselves.
When his long-time regulars come in, he often doesn't wait for the order to come back before he's sizzling a patty on the grill or chopping up a salad in anticipation. He knows his customers well, like family.
"Ninety percent of our customers are Edgewater people," Dianzikis said. "I see people that come here now, they are are 20, 25, 30-years-old and have their own kids, when they first started coming here they were kids themselves — not even higher than the counter."
"I think they are family because, I mean, they eat here."
He may not always remember a name, but orders and "faces I never forget," Dianzikis said.
Being able to talk and joke with neighbors, as well as feed both souls and bellies on a daily basis, has made for a good life so far, he said.
The quality and kindness coming from Patio Beef isn't lost on customers, either.
Not only has it served as an anchor for a changing North Broadway, Osterman said, but it's the good food and warm personalities of those who run the restaurant that keep people coming back.
"A lot of it is is the personal connection with the family in the way they treat their customers ... it's a true neighborhood institution," the alderman said. "I think they're going to be here as long as they can keep churning out the hot dogs and the milkshakes."
Dianzikis said Patio Beef's fate was briefly unknown several years back when the neighboring Edgewater Library was being built. The city had made moves to take over the property that included his restaurant using eminent domain.
To his happy surprise, neighbors rallied around the beloved beef shack, collected signatures and helped keep the diner open.
"I feel proud because I know the neighborhood wants me to stay here," he said. "I like the neighborhood, and where am I going to go? Let's say I moved away, where am I going to go? This is my home. I spend more time here than I do at my house."
Photos by Linze Rice.