Parthenon auction draws mix of bidders as contents of Ann Arbor restaurant are sold off
John Gavas leaned against his antique cigarette machine inside downtown Ann Arbor’s Parthenon Restaurant, a grin on his face that seemed one part curious observer, and other parts sentiment and sadness.
He watched as the iconic corner building, which has served countless gyro-seeking customers for 37 years, was filled again on Wednesday - three days after its closing - with everything inside up for public auction.
Parthenon’s walls - which have held countless “Opa!”s across five decades - echoed the racing voice of auctioneer Brian Braun, offering items at pennies on the dollar. Thirty to 40 people showed up for the auction, bidding on items for a variety of reasons.
Restaurant owners bid on items for their business, longtime customers bid on items of sentimental value. Others just looked for items made of metal to scrap at a junkyard.
Gavas and his brother Steve, who came to Chicago from the small village of Achladokambos, Greece in 1968, and moved to Ann Arbor seven years later to open Parthenon, watched as the last of their business was sold off.
“It’s happy and sad,” said John, who will leave for Greece next week on a long overdue vacation. He hasn’t visited in three years. The ticket he bought, he said, is “open ended,” with a deep chuckle.
Stained glass windows which the brothers hoped would sell in the hundreds of dollars - they paid $1,000 apiece for them back in Chicago - went for $175 at their highest, less than $100 at their lowest.
“I bought ‘em cuz I liked ‘em,” said Richard Milluchick, of Ann Arbor, who said he’s undecided what he’ll do with the two windows he bought.
The cigarette machine John estimated would fetch several hundreds of dollars because of its antique value, fetched $125. John doesn’t remember the last time the machine was actually used for it’s intended purpose.
“How long it’s been since cigarettes were $3 a pack?” John asked jokingly, pointing at the price sticker on the machine. “That’s how long.”
Andy Tankanow, owner of Moon Winks Cafe on Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor, was able to get a meat slicer and point of purchase system for a combined $1,000. He estimated the items value at roughly double what he paid.
There were certain things you couldn’t put a price tag on, but the auctioneers did anyway. Joan Schmerl has been coming to Parthenon at least once a month since it opened and bought a picture that’s hung on the walls for years. She paid $35. She’d pay 100 times that to have her favorite restaurant back.
She asked a longtime cook what the best Greek restaurant in Ann Arbor is now that Parthenon is gone.
“He said none, go to Chicago,” Schmerl said, with a sad laugh.
The item that fetched the most dough was the machine that’s mixed so much of it over the years. A man in the food service industry, who asked not to be named, paid $1,600 for a dough mixer. John said it cost him $10,000.
He’s content to be retiring. But that one stung a little.
“Restaurant owners, they don’t buy what they used to,” John said. “Even from five years ago. No one has any money. You’ve got to save.”
Some longtime customers stopped in to say goodbye on Wednesday. Don Hamilton drove from Romulus, as he has since the ‘70s, to feast on a gyro. He asked John if they were remodeling.
“Yeah,” John joked. “Come back Monday for lunch.”
Hamilton laughed, but was saddened to hear the news.
As the hours passed by and the once full building began to empty, one of the few items not for sale sat alone atop a high top table, which of course had already been sold.
They were cards and flowers, dropped off from longtime customers since the announcement of the restaurant’s closing weeks ago.
“Thank you for all the years of wonderful food, excellent and and friendly service and the security of having Parthenon on the corner,” one card read. “We will miss your restaurant and you.”
Contact Pete Cunningham at email@example.com or by phone at 734-623-2561. Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.
Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 8:42 p.m.
Restaurants come and go in Ann Arbor.This one was there va long time.It's closing stung.That's PROGRESS though. I GUESS?
Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.
That's a shame, but that is the epidemic now the mom and pops are vanishing country wide. It doesn't sound like they are being pushed out by a greedy landlord jacking up the rents but that is what is happening in many places. If these old school family owned places keep disappearing the whole country will be olive garden and starbucks....with no character
Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 5:41 p.m.
So glad we ate there one last time on the last night. So hard to decide what to get since we knew we would never have it so good again. The place was packed and the back area was filled with the friends and family of the owners. I know I'll never hear Opa! so often ever again. Thanks for an amazing run. Like I always say when something good ends.....at least I had the chance to experience it.
Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 4:41 p.m.
There's not enough space here to list all the good-to-great restaurants which once graced Ann Arbor. I guess the upside is that newer ones continue to open - some are even affordable to ordinary folks.
Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 1:50 p.m.
@goblue16, and just what is wrong with them? I was told that Brian did a cake auction at a local church just last Sunday and raised over $700 on about a dozen cakes up for auction for a christian fund raiser.
Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 1:45 p.m.
@sparty, the article does spell it GAVAS.
Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 7:25 p.m.
It was corrected once reported as an error ... and I apologized subsequently.
Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 11:56 a.m.
Moonwinks is not in Plymouth. They are on Plymouth Rd, located 1.5 miles East of US 23 in the Village of Dixboro, which is in Superior Township. Miles from Plymouth...
Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 1:04 a.m.
This story is too late...I would have loved to have gone to this auction. Those 30 or 40 people most likely got great deals with so few people there.
Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.
The story was mentioned about a week before this story aired. I would have loved to have gone, but also wanted to remember the memories of a bygone era.
Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 12:52 p.m.
I wish I could have gone. I have always wanted one of those gyro spinners. Hours and hours of entertainment watching meat rotate.
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 10:43 p.m.
I remember when cigs were $3 a pack it was 2 years after our child was born. I did end up quitting the year later. 2000
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 10:39 p.m.
Braun and Helmer. Who would have guessed they would do the auction. Another old time tradition. Great to see they are still in business.
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 11:32 p.m.
I would never attend an auction of theirs after I had a bad experience at one of their auctions and I know the person that hired them would never recommend them either.
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 9:43 p.m.
@ 1bit - thanks
Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 12:19 a.m.
Thanks for the post, Sparty, and clarification.
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 11:05 p.m.
No snarkiness meant, kitten or 1bit - I meant I wondered if the article was mistaken in my original post. It's a shame hat another, unnamed, had to make a personal attack. That's a typical approach they take as you'll hoe many of thir posts are removed. My apology if my comment was taken out of context.
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 9:15 p.m.
@ sparty - yes I did read it but knew them from other than the restaurant business and thought it was spelled Gavas. Apologies.
Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 12:22 a.m.
Sparty - sorry if I jumped to conclusions but it is hard to gauge intent on here. Unfortunately, the article still has the incorrect spelling.
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 11:01 p.m.
I only referenced the article as my post indicated. There was no snarkiness meant in my post, unline the attack of jcj
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 9:39 p.m.
Don't apologize! You are right about it and Sparty should have done some homework before the snarky comment.
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 8:28 p.m.
In case anyone cares I believe the last name of John and Steve is Gavas. Best of luck to both of you! The Parthenon can't be replaced. My husband and i visited once a month (he of greek heritage) Where to go for gyros now?
Thu, Apr 5, 2012 : 2:32 a.m.
The correction has been made. Thank you.
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 9:38 p.m.
No, Sparty, it's "Gavas". The article needs to be corrected. It has been correct in many previous articles. If you want, go to the Parthenon website (it's still up) and you can pull up their menu which has the correct spelling under pictures of the (younger) brothers.
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 9:02 p.m.
It's actually "Gevas" as noted in the article. Did you read it ?
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 7:55 p.m.
The antique cigarette machine is the first thing I thought of when I read the story title. Bought smokes from that machine when I was so young nobody would sell them to me. You guys and your food will be missed thats for sure.
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 9:01 p.m.
Ah, the memories of breaking the law .... such fond recollections, I'm sure. Although I'm sure now thoughts of anybody else breaking the law now bring harsh condemnation ?
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.
How many people would be freaking out over this auction if it weren't for all those picker and auction shows on tv?
Wed, Apr 4, 2012 : 7:55 p.m.
Who's "freaking out?" Sounds more like they needed more people to show up to get reasonable money for the stuff.