By Dave Ficere
You might think of an airport restaurant as a place that only caters to pilots and those flying in and out of a given city. But in the case of the Deer Valley Airport Restaurant, you’d be wrong because the eatery draws a cross-section of customers from across the Metro area.
The heart and soul behind the success of the restaurant is Voula Papamatheakis, who has owned it since 1990. Born in Greece, she came to the United States at age 12, married at 17 and studied to be a hairdresser. She bought her first restaurant at age 19 and has been in the business ever since. After moving from the Chicago area in 1990, she opened the Deer Valley Airport Restaurant.
“I just fell in love with it, to be honest,” she said. “None of this development [around the airport] was here, so we struggled for a couple of years” before business took off.
But it’s not always been a smooth flight. In 2000, the restaurant was closed down for a three-month remodeling and expansion project that wound up taking 13 months. Finally, they reopened and then 9-11 hit, forcing them to close again for four days, while the airport itself was closed for nearly six weeks. During that time, they fed the entire airport staff for free, barely covering their costs.
What makes the Deer Valley Airport Restaurant special? Both Voula and her customers say it’s the sense of family, along with great food and affordable prices. “We get a lot of families, and elderly customers – who love the senior specials – in addition to pilots and those that use the airport,” she says.
Not only is the restaurant popular with families and seniors, but business people love the large meeting room that is free of charge and can hold up to 90 people. Many business and networking groups take advantage of the central location and the room has also been booked for birthday parties, wedding receptions and other special events.
Another unique aspect of the restaurant is that everything is fresh. “People want fresh food when they eat out,” Voula says. “You can open a can of soup at home, so we specialize in making everything from scratch, including our pies.” Those pies are another thing customers rave about, in addition to the specials and weekend breakfast buffet.
Earlier this year, Voula sold the restaurant, “retired” and took a two-week vacation to Greece. ‘But,” she says, “I had so many emotions, I felt that I had sold one of my kids. While I had a great time in Greece, I missed the people. This is my social life,” she said, laughing. So she bought the restaurant back – much to the delight of her customers.
“Business repeats itself, because people talk,” she says, “and our business is largely word-of-mouth.” As for keeping her prices as low as possible, Voula sums up her philosophy this way: “I’d rather have a chair filled that will give me two dollars, than have the restaurant empty. You have to look at the big picture, plus having the place full brings a different atmosphere that people notice.”
In addition to the great food and family atmosphere, Santa will be visiting the airport in late November and early December. The Deer Valley Airport Restaurant is open daily from 6:30 am to 9:00 pm, 7 days a week except for Christmas Day. They’re located at 702 West Deer Valley Road and can be reached at 623-582-5454. You can check out their menu, daily specials, Santa’s schedule and get valuable coupons on their website: deervalleyairportrestaurant.com.