Local businesses prove that it really is “all in the family”

Elizabeth Mitas ’16 escapes the wintry night, steps inside the comfort of the Sherwood Diner and immediately takes in the aroma of Greek food. She removes her coat and scans the room for open tables. The swim team gathers in one booth relaxing after a meet, a group of middle schoolers congregates in the corner occasionally erupting into giggles and stressed seniors sprawl out at another table with notebooks and vanilla milkshakes cluttering their table. The room is an overwhelming sea of people, but when a few familiar faces catch Mitas’ eye, her lips curl into a smile.

Mitas approaches a couple of diner workers at the counter and — to the surprise of her friends — they all kiss and embrace each other.

“Greeks are very affectionate,” Mitas laughs.

Mitas’ family has owned and managed the Sherwood Diner for more than 30 years and, ever since its opening, Westporters find themselves unable to resist the beckoning diner sign out front that promises fast and friendly service.

The diner is known as a late-night refuge for teenagers to refuel, relax and socialize, as well as a go-to place for families to bond and eat fluffy stacks of pancakes.

According to Sam Galvao ’16 there is no better feeling than sliding into the upholstered yellow-green booths at the end of a long night.

“The fact that the diner is a family business allows everyone to just feel comfortable and relaxed,” Galvao said. “When you’re at the diner, you simply feel accepted.”

Mitas believes family-owned businesses offer a completely different atmosphere than that of chain restaurants.

“You get the sense that your needs are taken care of, and there’s a very ‘homey’ vibe to it all,” Mitas said.

Xenogon Tziolis, Mitas’ relative and part owner who is known around the diner as “Zenny,” stresses the importance of having a friendly atmosphere.

“When a customer walks into Sherwood Diner, I want them to feel like they just walked into their own kitchen,” he said. “[And] even better, they don’t have to clean up.”

Family businesses tend to build close-knit communities and strong bonds with customers, which is also apparent at Isabelle et Vincent, a traditional French bakery also located in Fairfield County. The two owners, Isabelle and Vincent Koenig, and their son Philippe Koenig ’16 craft delicate French pastries.

Koenig enjoys the many hours he spends with his family in the bakery.

“Working amongst my family is a pleasure,” Koenig said.

Tziolis also agrees that working with family members is a key to a business’s success. “Working amongst family is one of the major reasons we have been successful throughout the years,” Tziolis said.

Koenig believes the hallmark of family businesses offers a different, more individualized experience than chain corporations.

“We value the specific customer,” Koenig said.

Catering to the needs of each individual is a crucial element of a family business. Tziolis puts in all his effort to treat his customers like his family.

“Everyone gives it 110 percent and also supports each other so that we serve our extended family [Sherwood Diner customers] with the utmost attention to detail and quality,” Tziolis said.

Mitas also stresses the importance of customizing their services to meet the needs of individuals.

“Family businesses are open to criticism and will actually make a necessary change if you let it be known,” Mitas said.

“If a customer is unhappy, I will know it right away,” Tziolis said.

Mitas and her friends finish off their crispy chicken tenders and curly fries and walk up to the cash register to pay for their food. Mitas shifts her weight from one foot to the other as her friends fish out their wallets. When it’s Mitas’ turn to pay, her uncle crumples up her check with a smile.