John Tragas is rarely without a smile and a quick embrace or handshake for customers at Palatine's Cafe 14.
Tragas' gregarious personality was on full display Wednesday as Cafe 14, 300 N. Northwest Hwy., celebrated its 20th anniversary. Among wellwishers was Palatine Mayor Jim Schwantz who stopped in for a ribbon cutting ceremony.
"Thank you," Tragas said to one customer. "Thank you for your love and your support."
Tragas, 58, was born in Sparta, Greece in 1952. He emigrated with his family to the U. S. in 1966. The family opened a restaurant called Charm in Chicago in 1972.
"In 1989 they sold it to Walgreens and tore down the building and I was, unfortunately, unemployed," Tragas said.
Tragas said that he and a partner opened a family restaurant in Arlington Heights for about a year, before selling the business. The Cafe 14 location was available in Palatine after a previous restaurant there had closed.
After four years, Tragas' partner left the business and Tragas and his family have continued ever since. Over the years Tragas has worked to establish a close relationship with the community and his customers, knowing many of them by name.
"You want to really come close to your community and establish a good name," Tragas said. "From then on it's just a lot of hard work."
Tragas' wife, Claudette is an oncology nurse. Their three daughters, Diana, 31, Maria, 30, and Christina, 27, all have been involved in the business at different points over the years.
Then there's the Cafe 14 regulars, who Tragas describes as an extended family.
"We've always tried to see the human side of the equation," Tragas said. "It's the people. For us, as a small family operation we have the luxury to be able to do that."