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Published: 3/1/2005

Woman helped operate West Toledo restaurant

Susan J. Athanas, who with her husband operated a West Toledo restaurant for two decades starting in the mid-1940s and who remained active into old age with such activities as quilting and competing in spelling bees, died Sunday in the Heartland of Perrysburg nursing home at age 92.

Mrs. Athanas died of complications from an abdominal infection, said George Athanas, a son.

Mrs. Athanas, known as "Suzie," and her husband, Samuel G. Athanas, operated The Unique Grill, a round-the-clock restaurant on a Sylvania Avenue site near Secor Road that today is part of the St. Anne Mercy Hospital campus.

Mrs. Athanas worked the front end as hostess and cashier, while her husband was the chef, the son said.

Their three children also pitched in, walking to the restaurant after school to wait and bus tables, then going home to do homework before bedtime, George Athanas said.

"We were a typical Greek family - we all worked in the restaurant," the son said, adding that at the time, he resented lost opportunities to socialize with friends, but now believes he is probably the better for it.

In those days, Secor was at the western edge of Toledo's urban area, and there was a lot of construction under way.

That meant an abundance of laborers and tradespeople came to the restaurant for hearty diner fare, George Athanas said, but The Unique Grill also had a weekly Greek special on the menu.

During the early 1960s, Mr. Athanas obtained a liquor license for the restaurant, in an effort to boost business.

But it turned out, the son said, that a fair number of regulars liked The Unique Grill because it did not serve alcohol, and they were put off when alcoholic beverage sales started.

Mr. Athanas sold the liquor license and, shortly thereafter, the restaurant in 1966, bringing an end to Mrs. Athanas' working days - though Mr. Athanas found himself ill-suited to retirement and went back to work at a friend's restaurant downtown. He died in 1978.

Mrs. Athanas was born Susan J. Tanner in Arkadelphia, Ark., and was reared in Indiana.

At age 16, she moved to Chicago to work in a Greek-owned candy store, and it was there that she met Mr. Athanas, a friend of the owner. They married in 1928 in Charleston, Ill.

In early 1942, Mr. Athanas traveled to Toledo to cook in another friend's restaurant, and two years later he moved his family to the city.

After her husband's death, Mrs. Athanas took literature and crafts classes at the University of Toledo, and entertained herself with crossword puzzles, quilting, and tending roses and gardenias in her flower garden.

She lived her last six years at Heartland, where she enjoyed daily competitions in quiz games and bingo and became involved in the Toledo Senior Spelling Championship. George Athanas said his mother was the regional runner-up four years in a row.

George Athanas said his mother also enjoyed silly hats, and he was able to stoke that fondness each Christmas because his railroad management job moved him all over the eastern United States and he thus could shop for a Christmas hat in a different city every year.

Mrs. Athanas is survived by a son, George Athanas; brothers, William and Robert Tanner; sister, Virginia Olp; 10 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband, Samuel Athanas; son, Mark Athanas, daughter, Elaine Kay, and three sisters.

There will be no visitation, and a memorial service will be private. The J. Jeffrey Fretti Funeral Home is handling arrangements.

The family suggests tributes be to the Hospice of Northwest Ohio.



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