The Gianakura brothers, Chris and Samuel, having arrived in Sault Ste. Marie in the late 1890s, established the American Café in the newly built Soo Theatre complex in 1930. Peter, Chris's son, has written an account of the history of the two men, the businesses they owned, and memoirs of his own life, continuing their legacy.Peter Gianakura will be signing his newly released book about the American Café at the same site that housed the restaurant that he and his family owned. There will be an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 27 at what is now the office for the Soo Theatre Project and STARS.
An American Café: Reflections from the Grill is the title of Peter Gianakura’s new book. It is a collection of delightful tales about the small restaurant that he ran, first with his father and then on his own. The American Café, fondly remembered by folks all over the Eastern Upper Peninsula, evolved from two candy stores owned by Peter’s dad and uncle. The American Confectionery Store was located closer to Spruce Street and was forced to move when Kresge's came to town. Peter’s dad was able to move to the storefront next to the Soo Theatre where his uncle had a miniature candy factory in the basement. As the big candy companies came on the market, the Gianakuras couldn’t compete and the shop evolved into a sandwich and luncheon gathering spot.
Peter had no inclination to be in the restaurant business, he recalled in a recent interview with Meta Geyer. When he finished his stint in the Army as a medic, however, he couldn’t say no to his dad. He learned the business and worked beside his dad until he retired. Peter was behind the counter 43 years, and when he and Georgia were married, she became the restaurant's famous pie maker. They sold the café in 1989 and still run into former customers who remember their favorite meals there.
In one of the many stories Peter relayed about the Soo Theatre, he recalled, “I loved going to the theater when I was growing up. You know the movie ran all day on Saturday. One time I watched a western at least three times. When I finally left, I’ll never forget the sight in the lobby. There was my dad in his white apron and his hands on his hips glaring at me in front of the crowd coming in for the evening movie. I was one embarrassed young man.”
Soo Theatre Project has honored the Gianakura Family with a display of photos and memorabilia in the area that the family restaurant occupied for nearly 60 years. Peter and Georgia provided the wonderful pictures of the café and the former candy stores. Thanks go to Marian MacLeod for sparking the idea for the memory wall, to Bill Gerrish for lending his design expertise, to Colleen Arbic and Personal Touch for donating some of the materials, and to Sault Realism for creating the finished replica photos. The “Gianakura corner” is adjacent to the refinished original framed mirror that was behind the diner counter. The mirror was found under newer generation wall coverings and brought back to its former beauty by Fran Hoholik.
Stop by on Saturday to see this tribute to the Gianakuras and pick up a copy of Peter’s new book. As Chris Roll says in her review on the back cover of the book, “An American Café is a book filled with the richness of small-town life over the course of most of the 20th century.”
Photos from the Event